5 homelessness bills still alive in the WA legislature

As state lawmakers enter the 10th week of the legislative session, several bills dealing with the construction of homeless shelters and permanent housing have been withdrawn from the House of Representatives, while attempts to increased funding for affordable housing and rent assistance remain on the financial committees.

Here is an overview of the homelessness-related bills that may still be passed.

1. Homeless shelters, affordable housing and zoning

People who work in the field of homelessness often say that the main obstacle to building more affordable housing is finding a place to put it.

Whether it is emergency shelters, secure parking lots, sanctioned tent camps or permanent supportive housing, attempts to build housing for homeless people often face opposition from neighbors, local businesses and other community groups, delaying or even postponing projects altogether.

A series of bills proposed by Democrats aim to reduce regulatory barriers to creating affordable housing and emergency shelters.

HB 1220, sponsored by Representative Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds), would prevent cities from using zoning to prevent the construction of homeless shelters or permanent supportive housing in areas zoned for multi-family housing, areas commercial or mixed use where short term rentals are permitted.

It would not require shelters or supportive housing to be built in a specific location, but would simply prevent them from being indiscriminately banned in zoning districts intended for housing. Other provisions of the bill urge cities to address low-income housing in their comprehensive plans, but stop before stipulating specific actions.

The Peterson Bill, which passed House 57-39 and is due for a public hearing in the Senate Housing and Local Government Committee on March 18, is one of many that addresses tensions between municipalities trying to build shelters or housing for homeless people and cities and neighborhoods where these facilities are located.

A lengthy legal battle is underway between the town of Renton and King County, which has operated a Red Lion hotel in that town as a homeless shelter for around 235 people since last April. City of Renton officials, citing concerns about crime and property damage, attempted to shut down the facility, issue zoning code violations and threaten King County with fines to force them to relocate residents, according to an article in The Appeal. In December, Renton City Council passed an ordinance adding restrictions on future homeless shelters – including capping 100 guests and requiring shelter operators to discipline off-site behavior of residents – which advocates say are aimed at making shelters impractical, according to an article in Kent. Journalist.

2. Use local sales tax revenue to acquire hotels for accommodation

King County plans to expand its use of hotels as housing, announcing plans in January to buy up to a dozen hotels and turn them into permanent supportive housing.

HB 1070 would facilitate the hotel buying process by clarifying that municipalities can use local sales tax revenue to purchase housing (such as hotels) and operate it for affordable housing or behavioral health purposes. Sponsored by Rep. Cindy Ryu (D-Shoreline), the bill would require counties considering acquiring property to first check out cities and reserve 15% of units for people living in or near that city. He passed the House 56-42.

3. Exempt temporary shelters from SEPA use

Another bureaucratic process that can cripple shelter projects is the appeal under the state Environmental Protection Act (SEPA). Projects must undergo an environmental review to be authorized, in some cases requiring a detailed environmental impact assessment (EIA). These decisions can then be appealed, delaying projects by months or years, sometimes for reasons other than environmental policy.

SB 5428, sponsored by Senator Joe Nguyen (D-West Seattle), would exempt certain temporary emergency shelters and “transitional camps” from the SEPA process, if they include less than 200 beds, do not involve a permanent structure and are used for no more than three years. This could include sanctioned tent camps such as the Olympia Mitigation Site, secure vehicle parking lots such as those in Seattle and Bremerton, or modular structures such as the Seattle Navigation Center.

The waiver would only apply to jurisdictions that have declared roaming a state of emergency, which five jurisdictions – Olympia, Seattle, Tacoma, King County and Thurston County – have already done.

Nguyen’s bill went to second reading in the Rules Committee last week, but has yet to receive a vote in the Senate.

4. Funding of ongoing rental assistance and legal aid to tenants

HB 1277, sponsored by Rep. Timm Ormsby (D-Spokane), would create a new source of funding to keep people housed by adding a $ 100 document filing fee to real estate transactions. County auditors are already estimating $ 83 in fees to fund various housing programs for the homeless.

The additional surcharge would be used to establish a new rent assistance program run by the Commerce Department and designed to survive the pandemic, serving as a safety net for tenants who are temporarily behind on payments and at risk of losing their homes. .

The funding could also support project-based vouchers for nonprofit housing providers, foreclosure prevention and legal aid for tenants facing eviction.

SB 5160, a separate bill that passed the Senate last week, would guarantee tenants facing eviction the right to a lawyer, which would cost around $ 11.5 million a year, according to a tax analysis.

Ormsby’s Bill has been on the House Appropriations Committee for over a month now, but a public hearing is scheduled for Monday.

5. Tax Airbnbs to finance affordable housing

Another bill that seeks to provide more funding for affordable housing by taxing short-term rentals remains in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, where it has been since February 4. Sponsored by Sen Liz Lovelett (D-Anacortes), SB 5012 would allow cities and counties to collect an additional excise tax of up to 10% on rental accommodation listed on websites such as Airbnb and VRBO.

Brandon Block is the reporter for The Olympian’s Housing and Homelessness. He is a member of the Corps with Report For America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms.

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