We're days away from the end of the 2017 legislative session, and the state legislature has yet to intervene in our statewide homelessness crisis with the positive solutions right there in front of them. It’s not like this crisis is a secret. We’ve all watched homelessness rise across the state. More than 20,000 people struggle to survive without a home each night in Washington, and nearly 40,000 K-12 students leave school each day not knowing where their family will sleep that night. Our state can and must do better. Luckily, it’s not too late to act on a solution.
I introduced House Bill 1570 this year to 1) ensure that the proven solutions to homelessness continue to be funded and 2) to provide local communities with the opportunity to invest deeper in local solutions.
I know what works because I’ve seen it first hand. This may be my first year in the legislature, but I bring decades of experience in homelessness response, affordable housing, and behavioral healthcare with me to Olympia. Most notably, I helped pioneer the Housing First approach, offering people a place to live and surrounding them with the support they need to keep that home. I helped make Housing First and Permanent Supportive Housing a national best practice because they are extremely effective in ending homelessness. Now I need my colleagues in Olympia to join me in supporting these proven solutions. Coupled with state investments in the Housing Trust Fund, House Bill 1570 could end family homelessness. It could reduce homelessness among people with disabilities by half, and could ensure that no youth leaves state care without a home.
A little back-story: Fifteen years ago, the legislature authorized a surcharge on real estate related documents to combat homelessness. That surcharge now stands at $40, but is scheduled to expire in June 2019. To allow this funding to expire would be disastrous. The surcharge invests in a range of interventions including domestic violence programs, services for homeless youth and young adults, permanent supportive housing, and emergency shelter. The dedicated revenue stream allows the state to invest in these solutions without tapping the overburdened general fund. Over 98,000 people each year in our state are assisted by these dollars.
It’s no coincidence that homelessness decreased statewide by over 17% between 2006 and 2016. It is because these investments work. However, our state is now caught in the perfect storm of persistent poverty and skyrocketing rents meeting long-term disinvestments in human services, mental health, and chemical dependency funding.
We need to get back on track. Not only does HB 1570 prevent the cliff of over 60% of state homelessness dollars, but it would also allow local governments to increase the surcharge on real estate related documents by up to $50, allowing counties to invest in local housing solutions.
I recently received these notes from new homebuyers who paid the surcharge when they purchased their new home. I was impressed with their commitment to sharing their good fortune to ensure that their neighbors also have the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy home:
“Affordable housing is a key component of a functioning democracy and a fair society, and a $90 fee would be money well spent.”
“Aside from a sense of social responsibility, from an economic standpoint, supporting affordable housing and addressing homelessness, seems like a good community investment that can also indirectly impact property values.”
“I can't imagine how anyone could argue with a straight face that someone who has put together the money to buy property would be unduly burdened by an additional cost of less than $100.”
I’m gratified and encouraged that more than 200 organizations and local governments throughout the state have thrown their support behind HB 1570 – nonprofits, community groups, religious organizations, and cities ranging from Seattle and Walla Walla to Milton, Black Diamond, and Spokane. These communities and organizations recognize the urgency and know that homelessness endangers the lives of many people each night. Now that the legislature is poised to enter into special session, this urgency needs to be redoubled to ensure that HB 1570 is passed before the final Sine Die.
Rep. Nicole Macri, a Democrat, is serving her first term in the state legislature. She represents legislative district 43, which comprises parts of Seattle.