House passes bill to defend rights of religious organizations to host people experiencing homelessness

OLYMPIA – On Monday, the Washington State House of Representatives passed Substitute House Bill 1754, upholding protections for religious exercise in addressing homelessness.

Current federal law protects religious organizations from undue, burdensome, and discriminatory land use regulations. City and county regulations, however, often create obstacles for religious organizations that host people experiencing homelessness. Such obstacles may include elaborate permitting requirements, expensive building code upgrades, and onerous conditions on hosting.

SHB 1754, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-Seattle), limits the hosting-related regulations that cities and counties can place on religious organizations. Doing so will help churches, temples, synagogues, and other faith-based organizations fulfill their missions to serve communities and help people who need it most, Santos said in support.

“We have a crisis in homelessness,” said Santos. “Preventing religious organizations from providing shelter – a life-sustaining necessity – is wrong, and we should not prevent these organizations from helping people in need. This bill provides an opportunity for us to strengthen public-private partnerships while we address the housing crisis.”

SHB 1754 passed 95-3. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.