OLYMPIA – After what was unofficially the longest floor debate thus far this year in the state House of Representatives, lawmakers on Wednesday afternoon approved a sweeping bill designed to reduce homelessness in cities and towns throughout the state. House Bill 1570, introduced by Rep. Nicole Macri and co-sponsored by more than one out of three House members, stabilizes the state’s primary revenue source to respond to homelessness, by making permanent a $40 surcharge on certain documents filed at the county level.
Besides that centerpiece, Macri (D-43, Seattle) said, HB 1570 authorizes county auditors to assess and retain an additional local surcharge for homeless housing and assistance; allows counties more discretion in the use of those surcharges; and reestablishes the state’s homeless-housing strategic plan as a five-year plan to be revisited and renewed every five years.
“Homelessness throughout the state in the last few years has swollen due to three main drivers: sky-high rents, a severe shortage of affordable housing, and stagnant wage growth for low-income households,” Macri said. “It’s a situation that calls for new strategies and new tools, but when we have something that is having a positive impact, like the temporary surcharge, we need to make sure we don’t let that slip out of our hands and sacrifice the progress we had been making.”
“And with any proposed solution to homelessness,” she continued, “it’s important to have an idea of who we’re talking about. In many cases these are folks just like you and me who have had hard times – who have lost jobs, have gotten divorced, have gotten medical bills that they just could not handle, which have displaced them from housing.”
Additionally, she said,
- 35 percent of foster children in Washington experience homelessness within 12 months of aging out of the foster-care system;
- 29 percent of people who receive care in the state psychiatric hospitals become homeless within 12 months of leaving Western State or Eastern State hospitals;
- More than 2,000 military veterans are counted among Washington’s homeless population;
- Disabled veterans and seniors are disproportionately impacted by homelessness;
- More than 40,000 Washington K-12 students experience homeless over the course of a year; and
- More than half of persons who receive care in residential substance-abuse treatment programs become homeless within 12 months of leaving that care.
According to the state Department of Commerce, the current temporary surcharge on recording fees, first enacted in 2005, allows the state to provide assistance to nearly 100,000 persons each year, and helped reduce homelessness by more than 17 percent during in the following decade.
Macri’s bill, which was OK’d in the House by a slim 51-47 margin, has been sent to the Senate, which has until March 8, the final scheduled day of the 60-day session, to take action.