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Inslee rolls out $815 million plan to address homelessness

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee sits in front of a solar panel.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee sits in front of a solar panel after speaking Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, at a news conference in Olympia.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday proposed a host of efforts to address homelessness in the state, including a plan to help people stay in their homes, increasing emergency shelters and permanent supportive housing and expanding services for addiction or mental health issues.

Inslee’s planlooks to spend about $815 million, with more than two-thirds covered by federal coronavirus funding the state has received. His proposal looks to build on nearly $2 billion of state and federal money that was approved by the Legislature earlier this year for housing and homelessness programs.

A policy brief released by Inslee's office says that before the pandemic, about 30 out of every 10,000 Washingtonians were experiencing homelessness, and that preliminary data indicates that there was a 2% increase from January 2020 to January of this year.

“This is a statewide problem, not just Seattle, not just King County,” Inslee said at a news conference outside of a Habitat for Humanity project site in Seattle. “And it calls for a statewide solution.”

Among the spending he is asking the Legislature to approve:

  • $100 million in federal money to help with unpaid utility bills in order to prevent eviction.
  • $100 million in federal money to build about 1,500 permanent supporting housing and permanent affordable housing units to serve a variety of populations, including those with chronic mental illness who need services.
  • An additional $334 million, mostly federal funds, for housing ranging from tiny homes to enhanced emergency shelters.
  • $100 million in state funds to expand homeless shelter capacity.
  • $60 million in federal funds to expand treatment beds for chronic behavioral health conditions.
  • More than $48 million in state money to increase access to supportive housing and employment, and to help people maintain both even during behavioral health crises.
  • Nearly $51 million in state funds to transition people from unsanctioned encampments on public right of way, like areas along highways, to shelter or housing and to clean up and restructure the former encampments to prevent new ones from forming.
  • $3.5 million in state funds and passage of a new statewide policy to expand where housing supply like duplexes and other types of “middle housing" can be built. The proposal would overturn local bans on those types of housing in cities with a population of 10,000 or higher, and would allow duplexes, triplexes and quads on all lots within a half-mile of major transit stops in large cities, those with populations of 25,000 or higher. It would also allow lot-splitting and duplexes on all lots in large and mid-size cities.
  • $6 million to expand programs for homeless youth and young adults, including additional case managers, housing and rent assistance and other support services.

Inslee's office said the proposal would give cities flexibility on what type of middle housing it would allow, and that while cities with populations under 10,000 are not required to build middle housing they are encouraged to do so and can access resources from the state's Department of Commerce if they do.

“We need to build more affordable housing and we need to provide the services that are necessary to get unsheltered people, to help them through their challenges, to become sustainably housed,” Inslee said.

Seattle Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell said he appreciated the conversations with the governor and others on how to “better unite to address the challenge like the crisis it is.”

"That will mean connecting people living unsheltered with the housing and the services and the trust that meets their needs to leave encampments with safety, humanity and dignity," he said.

Inslee has been unveiling policy proposals through the week ahead of Thursday's official supplemental budget plan rollout. On Monday, he addressed several climate-related measures, and on Tuesday, he discussed a salmon recovery plan. His overall budget is just the first of three budget proposals the public will see.

The Democratic-controlled House and Senate will each present their own budget plans during the 60-day legislative session that begins Jan. 10.

Rachel La Corte covers politics and the Washington state Legislature for The Associated Press.
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