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01.08.09

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AFFORDABLE HOUSING
AND HOMELESSNESS

BACKGROUND -- Affordable housing is a term used to describe dwelling units whose total housing costs (for either rental or purchase) are deemed "affordable" to low- to moderate-income working families.

A commonly accepted guideline for housing affordability is a housing cost that does not exceed 30% of a household’s gross income. Those housing costs include taxes and insurance for owners, and usually include utility costs. When the monthly carrying costs of a home exceed 30–35% of household income, then the housing is considered unaffordable for that household.

While affordable housing needs have spawned numerous government policies designed to address the problem in general, specific crises can also spur action on this issue. In 2008, severe flooding in Southwest Washington promoted significant investment by the Governor and Legislature in mortgage counseling, flood relief and programs designed to help the homeless, particularly low-income families, move into stable homes.

LABOR’S POSITION -- Over the past 18 months, the Washington State Labor Council has created a coalition with affordable housing and homeless advocates to identify common issues and priorities. The following issues have been identified for the 2009 legislative session:

Maintain Funding for the State Housing Trust Fund

Created in 1988, the Washington State Housing Trust Fund (HTF) has become an integral part of the affordable housing development system throughout our state. The Trust Fund plays a key role in making projects work, in building local support and in providing a catalyst for community development. Since its inception, the HTF has developed, preserved or rehabilitated more than 32,000 housing units and leveraged public and private funds at a ratio of over 4:1. The HTF creates units that are guaranteed affordable for 40 years, and also provides affordable homeownership opportunities for first time homebuyers who earn 80% or below the area median income. With the help of significant operating and maintenance funds, HTF units are also used to provide supportive housing for homeless families and individuals. The Trust Fund is a powerful driver of economic development. Each additional $100 million in the Housing Trust Fund creates 20,700 jobs, mostly in the construction industry. For every 1,000 affordable units developed, $77 million is generated in local revenue and $9 million in taxes and fees for local governments.

End Source of Income Discrimination

Tenant-based rental assistance is Washington’s largest source of affordable housing. Renters from across the state rely on this support to stabilize their lives, raise families and engage in their communities. We should ensure that people in need of housing assistance are able to effectively utilize Section 8 vouchers and other forms of government assistance that help them pay the rent.

Promote Transit Oriented Communities

Ensure that transit-oriented communities include housing affordable for low-income individuals and families through tools such as incentive zoning, and creation of the Housing Everyone Financing Tool (HEFT) affordable housing growth fund. (The HEFT allows local governments to identify areas where sales and property tax revenues are increasing and dedicates a portion of this increased local revenue for affordable housing development in the designated area.) Also, provide infrastructure support funding to support fixed-income residential development.

Maintain funding for the Transitional Housing Operating and Rent Program

The Transition Housing Operating and Rent Program (THOR) is a versatile tool that can be used to provide tenants with rental assistance and case management, or be used in project-based supportive housing to provide operating and maintenance support for up to 24 months. This program has a success rate of more than 75% in placing THOR graduates in permanent housing. During the 2008 Supplemental Session, eligibility for THOR was expanded from homeless families with children to include individuals and people at risk of becoming homeless, and a $2.5 million allocation was made. Unfortunately, due to the current budget crisis, the State has been forced to cut that $2.5 million allocation. We seek restoration of the supplemental allocation and a baseline funding level of $10 million for THOR.

Maintain funding for the Emergency Shelter Assistance Program

The Emergency Shelter Assistance Program (ESAP) is a versatile tool used primarily for the provision of emergency shelter, but can also be used for various homeless prevention activities and is our primary tool for rapidly re-housing homeless families and individuals. ESAP funding has remained at approximately $10 million per biennium for the last 10 years while the demand for shelter has increased. As inflation increases, the number of people served by ESAP is decreasing. At a minimum, we seek to maintain the current funding level of $10 million, and if possible, increase it by $3.5 million to cover the increased cost of doing business in the last decade.

The Legislature passed E2SHB 2163 which mandated a reduction in homelessness by 50% by the year 2015. If this policy is to be realized DOC and DSHS should be required to track the housing status of individuals leaving their care and develop a plan to identify resources and strategies to stop the practice of discharging people from their care into homelessness by 2011.

Return to the WSLC Legislative Issues Index

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