2020 Affordable Housing and Homelessnes
The lead priorities for our 2020 State Legislative Agenda are below. Each year, we adopt a legislative agenda in collaboration with the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, which is approved jointly by our boards of directors, based on the recommendation of our Public Policy Committee.
Build affordable homes
Invest $10 Million into the Housing Trust Fund for preservation of affordable homes
Many currently affordable homes across Washington are at risk of being lost to the for-profit market. An additional appropriation for the Housing Trust Fund in the state’s Supplemental Capital Budget would help save homes and prevent the displacement of people living in them. This would preserve affordable homes already subsidized but at risk of loss. Funds could be used for the preservation of all units at risk of loss, including USDA properties in rural communities and homes funded with Low Income Housing Tax Credits.
Allow the local option of a 1/10 of 1% sales tax increase for affordable housing to be implemented by local elected officials.
Local jurisdictions need more options to generate local funds for affordable homes. The state authorizes local options but oftentimes creates significant barriers to their passage. The 1/10 of 1% sales tax option currently requires an electoral process which is expensive and time-consuming. Local elected officials should be able to implement the options that state has granted. HB 1590 would allow the current 1/10 of 1% sales tax funding option for affordable homes to be enacted through a simple majority vote of the city or county council. Local governments could still send it to the voters, but under HB 1590 they would not be required to.
Reduce cost and impediments to building affordable homes
Create a Real Estate Excise Tax exemption for selling to a nonprofit who acquires it for affordable housing.
The lack of properties available to develop multifamily housing and the inability to compete with for-profit developers to acquire existing properties is a significant issue facing nonprofit affordable housing developers across the state. Providing a Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) exemption when selling to a nonprofit or public housing authority for affordable housing will incentivize preserving or developing affordable homes. All sales or transfers of real property to a nonprofit entity, public development authority, or public housing authority would be exempt from the REET if the purchasing entity records a covenant requiring the property to be used for affordable housing.
Fix the property tax exemption for affordable rental housing for very low income households
Nonprofit affordable housing is currently granted a property tax exemption under certain circumstances, but it needs to be adjusted to work with the needs of today’s affordable housing providers. If a tenant’s income increases—which it often can because affordable housing stabilizes lives and improves employment opportunities—housing providers can be required to pay the full property tax. This unpredictability drives funders to require significant up-front cash reserves which can significantly increase the cost of building affordable homes.
Increase housing stability
Require a legitimate business reason to make someone move
Currently in Washington, landlords can end a month to month lease and make a tenant move without even telling the tenant why. This is a loophole in Washington’s fair housing laws and other legal protections for tenants. Additionally, the fear of getting a twenty-day no cause notice to move is a common reason tenants don’t assert their rights under the law. Landlords should not be able to make someone move unless they have a legitimate business reason and they should not be allowed to provide such little notice. SHB 1656 would require a landlord to have a legitimate business reason to make someone move and require more than twenty- days notice. The amended bill includes a variety of reasons similar to Seattle’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, but HB 1656 also applies to month to month tenancies.
Fund foreclosure counselors to protect homeowners
Homeowners in Washington continue to face the loss of their homes through foreclosures, including tax-lien foreclosures as the population of homeowners age and include more people on fixed-incomes. Funding is needed to maintain skilled counselors and mediators who connect homeowners to prevention resources and to information on homeowners’ rights in the foreclosure process.
Prevent and end homelessness
Eliminate the ABD shelter penalty
The Aged, Blind, or Disabled (ABD) cash grant program serves extremely low-income people with disabilities who are in the process of applying for federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) assistance. The ABD cash grant was dramatically cut from $339/month to $197/month during the Great Recession and the shelter penalty was implemented which lowers the cash grant even further to $120/month for an individual who is deemed not to have out-of-pocket housing expenses. The ABD cash grant is a critical resource for addressing basic needs and every ABD recipient should be able to access the full $197. This impacts about 15 percent of ABD recipients who are already struggling to make ends meet. While there is more work needed to increase the ABD cash grant, eliminating the shelter penalty is a common-sense step the legislature can take during a supplemental budget year to address the needs of an extremely low-income disabled population. The Operating Budget impact for fiscal year 2021 is estimated to be $2.5 million.
Rental assistance pilot project
Moving costs, including first and last month’s rent, deposits, and fees can add up to thousands of dollars and is a major hurdle for people trying to transition out of homelessness. Allowing tenants a three-month payment plan to cover these move-in costs will help address this significant barrier. HB 1694 does not regulate fees, but it requires a landlord to accept a tenant’s request for a three-month payment plan for all the move in fees, deposit and first/last month’s rent.