Last week, the 2023 Washington state legislative session wrapped up after a packed 120 days. The Legislature had a lot on its plate, including addressing our state’s homelessness and housing crisis. Advocates from across the state weighed in to support investments in access to housing and services, and I’m very pleased to report—the Legislature delivered.
Our state will hit a new high for housing funding in the next biennium with more than $1 billion going towards housing and homelessness services, including $400 million for the critical Housing Trust Fund which is the largest and most important source of funding for low-income housing around the state. This program has built thousands of permanently affordable homes for people earning the lowest incomes. Our grantee, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA), has successfully worked to grow this program from $106 million in 2018 to $400 million this year, a record investment!
WLIHA has also continued pushing for the tenant protections that help keep people in their homes. Building on the successes of previous sessions where they helped enact policies to prevent discrimination against renters using vouchers and ensuring that people facing evictions have access to lawyers, WLIHA organized this year around a statewide rent stabilization bill. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Alex Ramel (D-Bellingham), would tie rent increases to inflation, thereby slowing down the significant rent increases that we have seen over the last two years—renters in Spokane experienced a 32% increase while renters in Bremerton saw a 40% increase. The bill did well but did not make it out of the House of Representatives and will need to be brought up again next session.
In addition to strong funding levels across the board, Washington state took a huge step forward in repairing the generational damage of racist housing policies, such as redlining, through passage of the Covenant Homeownership Act. Thanks to the leadership of Rep. Jamila Taylor (D-Federal Way) and Rep. Frank Chopp (D-Seattle), the bill allocates $150 million in down payment assistance for communities of color, which have historically been prevented from homeownership. This first-of-its-kind program will help our state close the racial wealth gap and assist thousands of families who have been affected by racist housing policies.
We also want to recognize our state’s continued leadership towards ending youth homelessness. The Anchor Community Initiative through A Way Home Washington secured funding to continue work in the both the original four communities and a second cohort of five communities. This initiative builds on the commitments from the state and Governor Jay Inslee to create a statewide system to prevent and end youth homelessness through the Office of Homeless Youth. This successful public private partnership will now be able to test innovative strategies and build strong local systems integrated with state resources.
One such innovation also received $5 million from the Legislature—the Housing Prevention and Diversion Fund. This highly successful program uses flexible funding to pay for roadblocks that are keeping young people from stable housing—such as utility assistance or a deposit on an apartment. With an average cost of $2,000 per participant, this low-cost solution has seen 93% of youth and young adults are still housed a year after receiving assistance.
Thank you and congratulations to all of our grantees, partners, and elected leaders who worked tirelessly over the last several months to secure these investments!
Please reach out to your elected leaders to thank them for prioritizing housing and homelessness. Also, consider joining one of our many advocacy partners in Olympia next year to keep pushing for changes that will get people housed. With all of us working together, Washington is one step closer to ensuring that every person has a safe and affordable place to live and that our young people have the support needed to become successful adults.