As budget negotiations begin in the state Legislature, calls for action on affordable housing and rent caps from the annual Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day are expected to ring in the ears of lawmakers.
Hundreds of unhoused individuals, members of non-profit organizations and advocacy groups gathered late last month to urge lawmakers to do something about the high cost of housing.
Cheyonna Lewis, a single mother of three, sat on the steps of the Capitol with her youngest son in late January. Lewis was homeless previously and currently is on the brink again.
When one of her sons got in a car accident, the medical bills sent her family into a cycle of waiting instability. While her two oldest sons have been raised to adulthood, she still struggles with the fear of having to “start all over again.”
“Where is everyone gonna go? Everyone can’t be outside,” Lewis said. “Having to spend more than 50% of your income on housing is insane.”
It is estimated Washington will need 1.1 million more homes in the next 20 years, and over half need to be affordable for residents at the lowest income levels, according to the Washington State Department of Commerce.
Housing revenues set aside for COVID-19 relief in Washington are gone and average rents have nearly doubled from $989 a year in 2012 to $1,866 a year in 2022. The current average rental rate is $1,763, according to Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.
At the forefront of the housing agenda are three priorities: rent stabilization, affordable homes and homelessness supplies.
House Bill 2114, sponsored by Rep. Emily Alvarado, D-Seattle, and SB 5961, sponsored by Rep. Yasmin Trudeau, D-Tacoma, proposed companion bills that could limit yearly rent increase to no more than 5%.
Other protections in this bill include requiring a required six-month notice before rent increases.
House Bill 2276, sponsored by Rep. April Berg, D-Mill Creek, and Senate Bill 6191, sponsored by Sen. Noel Frame, D-Seattle, create new real estate transfer taxes on properties that sell for more than $3.035 million.
The bills direct revenues to funds that invest in affordable housing projects, such as the Washington Housing Trust Fund and the Affordable Housing for All Account.
Trudeau and Alvarado also introduced Senate Bill 5988 and House Bill 2095, a set of bills that require companies whose gift cards went unspent to pay a portion of that revenue to the state.
The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance says this gift card plan could generate $255 million.
Paris Nelson, policy manager for Fourth Plan Forward in Vancouver, is the daughter of a South Korean immigrant. She comes from a low-income household and was the first in her family to get a high school diploma.
Nelson once lived in her car, but now is in a position to advocate for more help for the unhoused.
“I feel the pain because I felt the pain,” Nelson said. “About 25% of our community is spending two-thirds of their household income on rent alone.”
Duana Johnson, a Colville Tribal member from Vancouver, a disabled veteran and a single mother of two who is living off of pensions, was given 51 days’ notice before her last rent increase.
“By the time I pay just my rent I have $52 left,” Johnson said. “I can’t think about anything else unless I have rental stability.”
Vicki Loveland, from Boise, Washington, was one of eight grandmas who received rent raises of over $1,000 in a six-month period.
“When I describe that to people, they say that’s criminal, and I will say, ‘That’s not against the law, though,” Loveland said.
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