Tuesday, April 5 2016

2016 Legislative Session: Progress and Missed Opportunities

The 2016 Legislative session saw some progress in investments in homelessness, including the passage of the Homeless Student Stability & Opportunity Gap Act and an important tenants’ rights bill. Unfortunately, families experiencing homelessness did not receive needed investments. As stated in a recent Seattle Times Op-Ed by Helen Howell, Building Changes Executive Director, “the Legislature missed an opportunity to invest in family homelessness, especially when we have so much information about strategies that we know are successful.”

Download the final update on Building Changes’ full legislative agenda.

Signing HB 1682 at McCarver ElementarySigning HB 1682 at McCarver Elementary by Gov. Jay Inslee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

On April 1, Governor Inslee signed the Homeless Student Stability & Opportunity Gap Act into law. The final budget provided $2M in funding for the bill: $1M for the Department of Commerce to administer a grant program that links homeless students and their families with stable housing located in student’s school district; and another $1M to implement the bill in 2017. Although the House version of the budget, which included $4M for the bill, did not pass, we are glad that this bill has at least some funding and we will continue to advocate for funding in future legislative sessions. Columbia Legal Services has long been a leading advocate for this legislation, and we are thrilled that this important bill finally passed.

On March 29, the Governor signed into law a compromise tenants’ rights bill that combines fair tenant screening with fairness in eviction reporting. This groundbreaking bill was passed due to the hard work of stakeholders and legislators from both sides of the aisle working together to improve the ability of all people to rent an apartment without discrimination. We hope that next year the state will take additional steps and pass a bill prohibiting source of income discrimination, which died during session this year.

Another lost opportunity for the Legislature this session was not providing the full request of an additional $10M investment in the Housing Trust Fund to cover updated caseload numbers. The Housing Trust Fund currently supports a wide range of projects to help people most in need afford housing, including those with very low incomes and people with disabilities, seniors, and families with children. Without full funding, more people in need of housing will fall through the cracks. We hope that the Legislature will protect the Housing Trust Fund and put more investments into affordable housing projects through this life-saving fund. 

While the Legislature did make critical improvements in homelessness and affordable housing during this supplemental budget year, we are disappointed that more of the House’s proposed budget investments in homelessness were not adopted. Washington is experiencing a homelessness crisis and, like other crises the state faces, it needs to be addressed in a quick and comprehensive manner. Senator Nelson’s Bring WA Home Act, which would have used money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to provide critical services to people experiencing homelessness, would have been a huge step in addressing our state’s current crisis. Homelessness and lack of affordable housing are having devastating impacts on families and young people across the state. 

Building Changes works closely with advocacy partners to champion support for vital programs that make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring. Please go to our State Policy and Advocacy page to learn more about our 2016 Legislative Priorities and related updates.

Visit the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance for more information and resources related to statewide housing and homelessness advocacy.