In a legislative update Tuesday to the Yelm Area Chamber of Commerce, state Rep. Andrew Barkis R-Olympia said his main concern is the housing crisis.
“The number one issue that I’m working on right now is housing, and I would say the biggest issue our state faces right now is the housing crisis,” Barkis said.
Affordable housing is affected by multiple issues, one being homelessness, he said.
Barkis pointed out that it seems like all we see on the television is more reports of people living in tents. Some may think that it’s just a Seattle problem, but he reminded the attendees that Yelm just had to deal with the same thing down by the river, where people lived in tents on city property.
“These are tragic, these are real people, this is an issue that is facing us all, but we’ve been working on it,” Barkis said.
These issues may seem tough, but Barkis brings a background of 28 years of experience in how to house people to the legislator, he said.
Two laws were passed last year that “are going to help with the funding model to get to those most dire in need,” Barkis said. “But I will tell you right now: It is not a funding issue.”
Barkis said that people will say over and over that we need more funding for housing.
“No, we need to make sure that the dollars that are allocated are accountable and that they are getting to the services that need them,” Barkis said. “We have to start looking at the issues that are driving the problem.”
Which brings in the second issue Barkis says affects the Washington state housing crisis: heroin.
“It is drug addiction,” Barkis said. “It is the rampant scourge of heroin and opioids that have flooded our communities. If you think it’s not here, think again.”
He continued to say that opioids are everywhere and that they tear families apart. The best way to fight this battle against opioids — which affect housing through homelessness — is to let police officers do their job, instead of having to turn a blind eye, Barkis said, of Seattle’s situation.
“If someone is doing drugs — shooting up on the side of the street — the police need to be able to do something about that,” he said.
With all that said, Barkis proposed that the macro housing issue can be solved with something very simple.
“We have to have more supply, and in order to have more supply, we have to have a very long conversation about the Growth Management Act…and about using our land wisely,” Barkis said.
When there is low supply and high demand, that makes high costs, which explains rising house and rent prices, Barkis said adding that he is working in Olympia to advise lawmakers on how to create more supply.
In addition, Barkis reported that he, state Rep. JT Wilcox R-Yelm and Sen. Randi Becker R-Eatonville lobbied hard with the transportation budget and managed to bump up construction dates of the Yelm Bypass. Construction should now be completed in the next two years, instead of the next four or five years, he said.
Furthermore, in the Foster and Hirst saga, Barkis reported that five permits were granted as study permits that would allow select cities to dig new wells. Yelm was one of the cities selected, so it can draw water again. Although, limits have been set on how much water can be pulled out, Barkis said.