When he signed the updated state budget in March, Gov. Jay Inslee lauded legislators for making significant new investments in housing and homelessness, particularly the funding for additional services and new models of rapid housing aimed at speeding up the availability of supportive shelter and housing options.
Today at a press conference in Seattle, Inslee said he’s heartened by the results of those new options as they open up and residents are moving in. He said additional homelessness funding will be a top priority once again in the 2023 legislative session, along with a package of bills aimed at constructing more housing at prices that are more affordable for more people.
“Homelessness and housing affordability is hurting communities all across the country. The scale of this challenge is daunting, but we are learning that the new approaches we’re taking can and will work,” Inslee said. “There is no simple answer for fixing homelessness fast. In the short term, we need more shelters that provide more services so people get back on their feet. Over the long term, we need more housing that average workers can afford. Both of those solutions require every community to do their part.”
Funding for rapid acquisition and services are game-changers for cities, counties, and service providers
Recent point-in-time counts reveal more than 12,000 people are experiencing unsheltered homelessness across the state. Inslee says the only way to bring that many people indoors is to continue funding new rapid acquisition housing units and further expand behavioral health services.
“There is no question that additional capacity and more services will be a top budget priority in 2023,” said Inslee. “We are seeing good success from our initial efforts with rapid supportive housing, and we need to put the pedal to the metal to make these options available for thousands more people.”
Since 2013, legislators have steadily been increasing funding for the state’s Housing Trust Fund, including funding for new housing projects, but these often take years to build. In 2021, legislators passed the first budget to fund a new approach called rapid capital acquisition funding. These funds allow communities to purchase properties such as hotel or apartment buildings, and quickly turn them into a shelter or housing facility. In the 2022 session, legislators approved funding to almost double the number of new units to more than 4,400.
Within the first year, 14 new facilities have already opened, serving approximately 830 residents. The Washington State Department of Commerce has awarded funding to an additional 19 projects in 12 counties that will provide nearly 1,000 additional units. The majority of the acquisitions are apartments or hotels that will be modified to provide long-term transitional or permanent housing.
Inslee has visited several such facilities this year, including True Hope Village in Seattle and Skagit First Step Center in Burlington.
In addition, legislators expanded funding for behavioral health services for people living at shelters and seeking help for mental health or chemical dependency issues.
Inslee says the proof these investments are working can also be seen in the state’s new Right of Way Safety Initiative. The initiative aims to transition people living in encampments along state highways to safer shelter and housing options. The state’s departments of Commerce and Transportation along with the Washington State Patrol are partnering with cities, counties, and nonprofit organizations to identify sites and conduct outreach to encampment residents.
Since Inslee announced the launch of the initiative in May, efforts are underway in King, Pierce, Thurston, Snohomish and Spokane counties. More than 124 individuals living at encampments have been transitioned to housing or shelter. Due to the extensive outreach and efforts to connect individuals to the right kind of services, at least 119 still remain housed.
Rep. Nicole Macri joined Inslee in emphasizing the importance of the new strategies for helping bring solutions online more quickly. Macri also serves as the deputy director for the Downtown Emergency Service Center in Seattle.
“As the governor said, often, almost always, to build housing and stand it up has taken years,” Macri said. “Now with courage and conviction it is taking weeks and that is making all the difference.”
“What you’re seeing today is ‘we success’ -- it’s not the success of the authority or the governor or WSDOT, it’s the success of all of us,” said Marc Dones, CEO of King County Regional Homelessness Authority. “When we use money smartly and use public funds with the best, smartest strategies we have… we can rapidly resolve encampments, we can bring everyone inside, and that is the reality we can live in.”
Lack of affordable housing will require action in every community
Washington state’s population has grown 25% since 2005 but housing supply has only grown by 22%. This means there’s a deficit of about 76,000 units as of 2020.
Cities and states across the country have seen recent spikes in home prices. In Washington state, from 2019 to 2020, median home prices increased 13.7% in just one year. This housing affordability crisis is not just in the state’s urban areas, but also in rural communities such as Chelan and Okanogan counties.
Inslee outlined three policies for the 2023 legislative session that he’ll be working with legislators on. He anticipates additional discussions and policies in the months leading up to session.
- Increasing density near transit corridors by creating a public-private partnership transit-oriented development program and establishing requirements around the number of units that are priced affordably.
- Speeding up development by creating a new permitting pilot program and digital permitting platforms.
- Helping lower-income first-time home buyers by expanding a tax incentive for people who sell their homes to first-time home buyers in the state’s home buyer program.
“Availability and affordability are two sides of the same coin,” Inslee said. “Affordable housing is necessary for preventing people from sliding into homelessness, for helping people transition out of shelters and into permanent housing, and for strengthening the ability of working people to establish economic stability and security.”
Watch the full press conference on TVW.