Building Changes’ advocacy efforts crest each winter during the legislative session in Olympia. This spring, we are celebrating the passage of several bills that will improve the lives of families and young people experiencing homelessness. In the 2018 session, the state put more money behind housing and services for people experiencing homelessness and passed laws that support the needs of unaccompanied youth (those not in the custody of a parent or guardian), including those experiencing homelessness.
We asked Katara Jordan, Building Changes’ senior manager of policy and advocacy, to share some of the good news.
Q: By all appearances, this was a successful session for families and youth experiencing homelessness and their advocates. How do you see it?
A: I would describe it as a great session. Our state solidified its commitment to supporting people experiencing homelessness, and we’re grateful for that. Lawmakers from both parties showed exceptional leadership in focusing their time on the issues of homelessness and affordable housing.
Q: What are some of the biggest victories from this past session?
A: There were several wins. A huge one will produce an additional $26 million a year to fund homeless and housing services across the state of Washington. The funds will come through an increase of a document recording fee that people pay when they file certain types of real estate documents with counties. Our partners at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance have called the existing surcharge the most important source of funds to combat homelessness in our state. It pays for a variety of housing services for people experiencing homelessness, everything from rental assistance to domestic violence shelters to Permanent Supportive Housing. The Legislature increased the fee from $40 to $62.
The Legislature also removed the fee’s 2023 sunset provision, which means we don’t have to fight each session to keep it from expiring. To me, that signifies our state recognizing the importance of this fund and what the impact would be on people if we didn’t have it.
Q: That’s great. What other new laws are you excited about?
A: The Legislature made an important statement by outlawing a form of income discrimination. Landlords sometimes deny potential tenants the ability to rent due to the way they pay their rent, such as through a Section 8 voucher or some other type of housing subsidy or income assistance – even Social Security. Now, across the entire state, landlords are not allowed to deny tenants based on their source of income. This new law levels the playing field. It gives low-income people and people on fixed incomes a better opportunity to have their applications considered fairly.
Q: Several bills passed related to youth homelessness. What can you tell us about those?
A: Our state really stepped up its commitment to addressing the needs of unaccompanied youth. The Legislature voted to require agencies to develop a plan to ensure that no unaccompanied youth will be discharged from state systems into homelessness, effective by the year 2020. By state systems, I mean juvenile rehabilitation, behavioral health, and also foster care.
Another new law allows unaccompanied youth ages 13 and older to consent to have their personal identification information collected. This will help the state – and, really, all of us working on behalf of young people experiencing homelessness – to have a better understanding of the scope of youth homelessness. The data will help us develop better solutions for addressing the needs of young people experiencing homelessness.
Q: Any others you want to mention?
A: One more, and this is probably the bill that we at Building Changes had the most direct involvement in. The state is expanding eligibility criteria for its Passport to College Promise program. The program will now offer scholarships and apprenticeships to unaccompanied homeless youth. Prior to this, the program was strictly for certain categories of youth in foster care.
This is a really big change because unaccompanied homeless youth face real challenges accessing postsecondary opportunities. The scholarships and apprenticeships give them more chances to get the education and vocational training necessary to obtain well-paying, career-track jobs. Employment is a pillar for stable housing.
Q: That was a busy and productive session for sure.
A: It was. Much credit goes to the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, The Mockingbird Society’s Washington Coalition for Homeless Youth Advocacy, A Way Home Washington, and Partners for Our Children, all of which tirelessly advocate for the issues that Building Changes and our supporters care about so deeply. I also want to recognize one legislator in particular, Rep. Ruth Kagi, who will be retiring at the end of year. During her time in the Legislature, she helped put children and family issues front and center. She also built a spirit of bipartisanship on these issues so that both Democrats and Republicans can work together in the future to carry on her legacy.