From the Field: Washington Legislature Takes Major Steps Forward on Housing Funding and Renter Protections

After more than a decade of campaigning, housing advocates in Washington are celebrating the passage of legislation to ban discrimination against Housing Choice Voucher holders. Renters who use federal assistance to help pay their rent can no longer be flatly rejected before even applying as “source of income” is now added to the list of protected classes under the state’s fair housing law. In addition to protections for voucher holders, the legislature included $107 million for the Washington state Housing Trust Fund in their capital budget and passed several other significant bills to advance housing justice and reduce homelessness. Advocacy efforts in support of these legislative achievements were organized by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (the Housing Alliance), an NLIHC state partner. 

By passing House Bill 2578, Washington becomes the fourteenth state to ban housing discrimination based on source of income. The legislation additionally creates a mitigation fund that landlords can access if voucher-holding renters damage a property beyond normal wear and tear. Similar mitigation funds in other states have not been heavily utilized, and there is scant evidence that households using vouchers are more likely to damage properties.

The state Housing Trust Fund, which provides housing solutions primarily for the lowest income households in Washington, was given a boost of $107 million in the biennial capital budget. The capital budget is late, originally to be passed in the 2017 legislative session. Forceful advocacy, including running ads on the home pages of newspapers around the state, finally broke the budget impasse and secured a capital budget during the second week of the legislative session. The Housing Alliance estimates that the new $107 million will help fund 3,500 new affordable homes.

House Bill 1570 provides another significant funding victory by increasing the state’s real estate document recording fee an additional $22. This increase is expected to generate $26 million each year, which the Housing Alliance indicates will be enough to assist an additional 11,500 households experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. HB 1570 also removes the expiration date that had been affixed to the document recording fee, making permanent this essential resource for homeless services. The bill also eliminates a previous requirement that 45% of all rental assistance be paid to for-profit rental housing providers. Mission-driven nonprofit housing organizations will no longer be at a disadvantage in utilizing these funds.

Several other important programmatic changes were passed in the recent session. House Bill 2667 expands access to the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program, which had previously barred people with disabilities and people suffering from addictive disorders. The bill is expected to allow renters with permanent disabilities to maintain their housing while they pursue Social Security benefits. Accessing disability income is also supported by the passage of House Bill 1239, which provides for no-cost access to medical records that can support claims for benefits in appeals hearings.

The legislature also passed an important increase to asset limits to the eligibility requirements for participating in programs like HEN or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. This increase will help households experiencing temporary financial hardship. People will no longer have to sell valuable asset like a reliable car that provides transit to employment or doctor appointments just to get their asset levels low enough for benefit eligibility.

Additional policy changes will make resources available for developers of low cost housing. House Bill 2444 prevents real estate excise taxes from being charged to Low Income Housing Tax Credit properties at the time that ownership is transferred from a for-profit entity to a nonprofit owner, which happens often at year fifteen of the property’s life. House Bill 2382, meanwhile, provides for a clearer and easier process by which under-utilized public land can be transferred to new owners who will use it to expand affordable housing.

“There is so much more to do to solve our state’s affordable housing crisis, but we are thrilled about the progress we made this year,” said Rachael Myers, executive director of the Housing Alliance. “These victories would not be possible without the tireless advocacy of the housing providers, low income residents, and community leaders who use their voices to discuss the importance of housing programs.”

For more information about recent victories in Washington, contact Rachael Myers at: [email protected]