Recently, the state Department of Commerce released a comprehensive housing study that quantifies what we already know: Too many people in Washington can’t afford a home. The study found that more than 390,000 households in our state, including two-thirds of those considered extremely low income, are paying more than half their income for housing.
Another report from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction found more than 32,000 children in our schools were homeless last year. In Seattle, hardly a week passes without a news story chronicling rent hikes and displaced tenants with few options. Housing affordability has reached a crisis point.
This crisis is the result of policy and budget choices. And while the legislature can’t solve it on its own, it can help.
Legislators who want to improve housing affordability should make it clear that they won’t agree to any state budget unless it includes funding for affordable homes. A $100 million capital investment will create affordable homes for seniors, homeless families, veterans, people with disabilities, farmworkers and more. The vast majority of the state’s investment in affordable homes serves people who are extremely low income and unable to afford a home without assistance.
Aside from investing in affordable housing, the state should protect Washington’s lifeline for the disabled and elderly by maintaining funding for a number of programs: Housing and Essential Needs; Aged, Blind and Disabled; and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) Facilitation. These services provide support for people with physical or mental disabilities to meet basic needs, including housing. Gov. Jay Inslee wisely wrote a budget with no cuts to these services. The legislature should follow suit.
The legislature can also help end chronic homelessness by creating a Medicaid supportive-housing services benefit. Because of the Affordable Care Act, most homeless people are eligible for Medicaid. The benefit would allow some housing agencies to bill Medicaid for case management and other support services provided to eligible residents. This would make it possible to help more people with severe and chronic conditions stay off the street and stay in a healthy home.
Representatives can address barriers to affordable housing by passing bills that expand tenants’ rights. The Fair Tenant Screening Act reduces unnecessary barriers to housing. The cost of tenant screening reports, when tenants have to pay for them over and over, is a significant barrier. Each time a tenant submits a rental application, he or she must pay for a new report. The costs add up, especially when applicants are competing for vacancies in tight markets. Duplicate reports can be a barrier for low-income renters.
The Truth In Evictions Reporting Act ensures that evictions are reported only when a tenant is found guilty. Tenant screening companies report all eviction lawsuits as equal, even lawsuits that have been settled to the landlord’s satisfaction or when the tenant has won in court. No matter the outcome, tenants have a mark on their record. This mark makes accessing a rental home much more difficult.
Legislation that would prevent discrimination based on source of income would provide choice and mobility for renters. In the search for a home, many individuals and families face outright or unintentional discrimination. This occurs when landlords are unwilling to rent to Housing Choice (Section 8) voucher holders, seniors relying on Social Security income, veterans using housing subsidies and people with disabilities who receive other legal sources of income.
Laws that ensure landlords give tenants more notice before a rent hike would give renters time to save money or plan a move. Lawmakers should pass the current bill proposal that would increase the notice requirement to 90 days for rents that increase more than 10 percent.
Gov. Inslee’s proposed budget preserves funding for safety-net services, affordable homes and education, which is possible because it includes revenue.
To read more please go to the Housing Alliance website, http://wliha.org/.