It only took one day for a reality check on Washington State Democrats’ big victory.
The morning after Manka Dhingra won a key state senate race in the 45th District, Democratic Party leaders spoke to the Seattle Times about what they planned to do with their new majority. Not on the list: A capital gains tax.
For progressives in Seattle, it was a reminder that a one-vote majority doesn’t guarantee a progressive agenda. On some issues important to Seattle, Democrats still have to woo moderates and Republicans, even with Dhingra in the Senate.
That dynamic will play out for another Seattle priority, too: housing and homelessness. Here’s a look at what's on the agenda for Seattle Democrats and housing advocates and what will take more than a one-vote majority to win:
THE CAPITAL BUDGET: Negotiations in Olympia fell apart last session, as Republican leadership in the Senate hitched the $4 billion capital budget to a separate bill dealing with water rights in rural areas. That has effectively held a bunch of spending—including money for new affordable housing—hostage to a complex fight over water rights and building permits.
The version of the capital budget that passed the Democrat-controlled house but got stalled in the senate included $106.37 million for the Housing Trust Fund, according to the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. That fund provides funding for low-income housing projects across the state. The budget included $24.37 million for permanent supportive housing. Critical to addressing homelessness in cities like Seattle, permanent supportive housing includes services for people who are chronically homeless or have disabilities. It would have also funded projects for rural areas, like $5 million for a rural low-income home rehabilitation loan program.
Timing matters, too. January brings a new legislative session and the deadline for applications for a key source of federal affordable housing funding to match state and local dollars: the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. But to get that funding, housing projects have to be otherwise fully funded. That means if the LIHTC deadline comes but the capital budget hasn’t passed, some affordable housing projects won’t have the funding necessary to qualify to the LIHTC and therefore won’t be viable.
“The capital budget is really, really important and urgent,” says Representative Nicole Macri, a Seattle Democrat who also works at the Downtown Emergency Service Center. “If we don’t pass the capital budget pretty early in January, we miss out on the opportunity to build 200 to 300 affordable units.”
When the legislature convenes on January 8, Democrats will be in the senate majority leadership roles instead of Republicans, but a simple majority won’t be enough. The portion of the capital budget that requires bonding needs a 60 percent majority to pass.
MONEY FOR HOMELESSNESS: Democrats and housing advocates will again fight to preserve the document recording fee charged on the filing of real estate documents. That fee makes up 60 percent of the state’s homelessness funding, according to Michele Thomas, director of policy and advocacy at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. The fee is currently set to end in 2019. Housing advocates and some Democrats want to make the fee permanent and increase it.
Another possible source of funding: the state’s emergency reserves.
In 2016, Senator Sharon Nelson (D-Maury Island) proposed tapping the state’s $700 million rainy day fund to direct about $181 million toward shelter and affordable housing. That proposal failed, but Nelson says she hasn’t ruled out bringing it back this year.
“Cities are telling us they need help and not just for forest fires,” Nelson says.
Again, Democrats can’t do this alone. It takes 60 percent of the senate to take money from the rainy day fund.
PROTECTION AGAINST "SOURCE-OF-INCOME" DISCRIMINATION: In Seattle, it’s no longer legal to refuse to rent to someone because they use Section 8 vouchers or other subsidies. There is no such law statewide. Despite repeated efforts, the proposal has failed year after year.
That could change this year. Unlike the capital budget or taking money from the rainy day fund, an anti-housing discrimination law only requires a simple majority.
State senator David Frockt, a Seattle Democrat, has sponsored statewide protections against source of income discrimination in the past. Frockt says there’s momentum to revisit the issue this year but debate over which vouchers to cover and whether to include a preemption cause that would overrule local laws on this issue like Seattle’s.
“We’re feeling optimistic about the legislative session, much more than we have in previous years,” says Thomas, from the Low Income Housing Alliance, but “there is still going to be compromise needed.”
“In order for things to change more dramatically, to see an environment where good bills can pass without any amendments,” she says, “we need more of a majority of progressives.”