RODNEY TOM  Orchestrating a compromise that benefits for-profit landlords instead of the homeless.
  • RODNEY TOM Orchestrating a "compromise" that only benefits for-profit landlords and doesn't actually help the homeless.
Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom really is an impressive guy; without personally lifting a finger, he can turn an essential bill on low-income housing and homelessness into a "compromise" that only benefits for-profit landlords and doesn't actually help the homeless.

It all started on the last day of February, when, at the behest of Senator Tom (who denied it!), State Sen. Jan Angel (R - 26) abruptly ended a Senate Financial Institutions, Housing, and Insurance Committee hearing, effectively killing ESHB 2368, an affordable housing bill that would ensure funding for many of the state's programs to aid the homeless.

This morning, the ghost of 2368 was revisited in a sad, rejiggered version of its former self, which offers few of the provisions needed, and actively gives money to for-profit landlords.

HB 2368 would have indefinitely extended a $40 surcharge on filing real-estate documents—a surcharge that pays for YWCAs, church groups, and other nonprofits. The newly-titled SB 5875 does not. Sponsored by State Sen. Andy Hill (R - 45), SB 5875 only grants a one-year extension to the surcharge, which raises "real and tangible" revenue, as Governor Jay Inslee called it in a finger-waggy letter to Senator Tom. This new bill also "explicitly takes money away from the YWCAs, church groups, and other nonprofits who own and operate homeless housing" by setting aside money specifically for for-profit landlords, according to Joaquin Uy at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.

Uy says the Housing Alliance doesn't care about what the bill's number is—just what the contents of the bill are. And the contents of the new bill just aren't there. "We support 2386...And we could support 5875 if it had the same provisions as 2368. The number doesn't matter to us."

The new 5875 was heard this morning by the Senate Ways & Means Committee, where lobbyists for realtors and landlords nodded along to the new language, while activists for low-income housing and the homeless argued for the bill in its previous, homeless-helping form. All things told, more than 20 people signed up to testify.

At times, the testimony got downright yucky, with speakers attempting to politely pick and choose who would benefit from the revenue raised by the surcharge — including making it clear that some homeless are good, while others are not-good. At one point, Kyle Woodring, from Rental Housing Association of Washington, who has championed for the for-profit landlord amendment which would take money from non-profit low-income housing organizations, noted that he didn't want revenue raised by the bill to go to what he called "special needs" populations of the homeless.

Of course, it would almost certainly be illegal to decide that "special needs" individuals or populations can't have money.

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The Department of Commerce, the Governor's Office, and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance are officially submitting a letter imploring that 5875 be amended to add five "fixes," which would basically rebuild the bill into what it once was.

It's now off to caucus, and will be subject to a vote after that.

This post has been updated since it was first published.