Washington state looks to spend more than $1 billion to address homelessness

Washington state allocates over $1 billion to combat homelessness, with a focus on affordable housing and homelessness services in its operating and capital budgets for 2023 to 2025.
File photo.

The state Legislature passed more than $1.1 billion for affordable housing and homelessness services in its operating and capital budgets for 2023 to 2025

Logan Washburn
The Center Square Washington

Washington state is spending more than $1 billion on homelessness programs, including affordable housing and addressing historic racism in housing contracts.

“The only way to end the homelessness crisis is to make these investments in housing and the services people need to get out of these situations,” said Mike Faulk, press secretary for Gov. Jay Inslee’s office. 

The state Legislature passed more than $1.1 billion for affordable housing and homelessness services in its operating and capital budgets for 2023 to 2025.  

The operating budget includes $529 million for housing programs, including “addressing historic racism in housing covenants,” according to Faulk.

“Systemic, racist and discriminatory policies have formed barriers to homeownership for Black, Indigenous and people of color and other historically marginalized communities,” said Democratic state Rep. Jamila Taylor, D-Federal Way, in a news release earlier this year.

Taylor sponsored House Bill 1474 creating the covenant homeownership account and program to address the history of housing discrimination due to racially restrictive real estate covenants in Washington.

It passed out of the Legislature as Second Substitute House Bill 1474, and Inslee signed the bill into law in May.  

These operating budget funds also support programs including permanent housing, emergency housing, behavioral health services, homeless services contracts, homeless youth programs and “essential needs” to help people leave homelessness, according to Faulk. It helps fund the governor’s Rights of Way Safety Initiative, intending to transition homeless people living in rights of way to services and housing. 

The capital budget provides $587.8 million to similar issues. Close to $400 million supports the state’s Housing Trust Fund, offering affordable housing units, housing preservation, home ownership and housing for those with developmental issues.

The budget supports close to 1,000 existing affordable housing units from 2023 to 2025, and will fund close to 3,850 new housing units in the next two years. It will fund another 11,150 units over the next three biennia, or two-year periods.

At the same time, according to Office of Financial Management data, the budget sends $60 million to the Connecting Housing to Infrastructure Program, which offers state grants to reduce utility costs. Faulk said this affects close to 12,000 affordable housing units.

The budget also supports housing programs via land acquisition, transit-oriented housing, youth shelters and rural home rehabilitation. 

“The Legislature went big on these investments this year at the governor’s request,” Faulk said. “We need them to continue to go big if we are going to succeed.” 

That’s because homelessness is a big problem in the state.

Washington, along with California, New York and Florida, had the most homeless people in 2022, according to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report. The four states accounted for more than half of the nation’s homeless population.

Washington’s largest encampment, Camp Hope in Spokane, closed in June. Various agencies spent $125.5 million in the last two years on Camp Hope, which at its peak saw nearly 600 people living there. 

“We appreciate all those who assisted the hundreds of people living at this one site, and remain focused on the long-term, statewide effort to connect more people to safe, stable housing,” Inslee said in a news release at the time. “Legislators this session approved new policies and historic funding to help communities.”

This report was first published by The Center Square Washington.

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