During the final hours of its 2014 session, the Washington State Legislature took action to prevent the sunset of a key funding source for state homeless services. The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (Housing Alliance), an NLIHC State Coalition Partner, led the advocacy effort, coordinating community members and organizations across the state.
Washington State attaches a small surcharge for recording real estate documents. However, a portion of the fees were to be phased out through reductions in July of 2015 and then again in July of 2017, resulting in drastic reductions in funds for homeless services across the state. Among the programs funded by the surcharge are emergency shelter, rental assistance, and domestic violence services. A key strategy of the Housing Alliance’s advocacy included highlighting the types of programs set for elimination if the document recording fees were reduced.
In the middle of the legislative session, the campaign hit an unexpected obstacle. A Senate committee co-chair killed the Document Recording Fee Bill that would have extended the funding source, despite bipartisan support for the legislation. The Housing Alliance set out to ensure that legislation’s demise made the news across the state. They helped legislators pen op-eds in key newspapers highlighting the importance of the bill. Soon, editorial boards came out in support of bringing the bill back.
Housing Alliance organizational members continually brought agency clients to testify at the state capitol, telling their stories about how document recording fee-funded services helped them get off the streets and into stable housing. The Housing Alliance’s advocacy network repeatedly contacted their legislators to demand that they find some way to bring the dead bill back.
Due to the groundswell of grassroots advocacy, the fees were extended at their current levels to 2019. Housing Alliance Executive Director Rachael Myers was pleased when the bill finally passed. "In the middle of the session, we thought this bill was dead and that shelters would be shutting their doors. We’re extremely relieved that the legislature did the right thing. This funding means that 32,000 people will have a roof over their heads instead of being outside in the cold. And we're inspired by the hard work of our legislative champions and by the grassroots advocates all over the state who stood up and spoke up for their homeless neighbors."
In addition to the extension of the Document Recording fees, the Housing Alliance was successful in broader coalition efforts. For instance, an Extended Foster Care Bill, which had also died in committee earlier in the session, passed in the final days. It expands eligibility for extended foster care, even if the youth is employed full time. The legislature also passed the Homeless Children’s Education Act that allows schools to better identify which populations are susceptible to homelessness and provide appropriate services.
The legislative session in Washington was not entirely good news; Washington failed to pass a Supplemental Capital Budget for the first time since 1996. This budget bill included key provisions for Washington’s state Housing Trust Fund. Consequently, no additional revenue was made available this session for creating and preserving affordable homes.
The Housing Alliance is already at work to make the 2015 legislative session an even bigger success by providing training on effective advocacy to members throughout the stat during the interim. The Housing Alliance’s Board Advocacy Project is also working to activate the over 10,000 board members of housing and homelessness nonprofits in Washington to join the movement for affordable homes and ending homelessness. Also the Emerging Advocates Program, which helps people who have experienced homelessness and/or housing instability become advocates ready to share their stories for the next session, begins in July. One of their most exciting state policy items for 2015 will be leveraging Medicaid expansion to create a benefit that providers could use to help fund supportive housing services.
More information about WLIHA’s state level advocacy work is at: http://www.wliha.org/advocacy/state