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Skagit and other counties may close homeless shelters due to drop in mortgage fees

KNKX Archive
A shelter in Tacoma operated by Community Youth Services serves young adults 18 to 24.

A Skagit County official said this week that many government-funded shelters and programs will likely have to close or downsize its shelters and homeless assistance programs this summer.

But Skagit County isn't alone.

Here's why: In Washington, when you’re getting a mortgage or refinancing your current mortgage, you pay a document recording fee that goes to funding homeless services.

As the housing market has cooled down, governments such as Skagit County have backfilled with federal pandemic aid from the American Rescue Plan Act.

That’s now running out too, according to Sarah Hinman, assistant director of Skagit County Public Health.

"Over the past three or four years, we've really been able to expand and grow our programs and do new and good things. And to see that all come crashing down is – it's pretty devastating," Hinman said. "It's going to be really tough."

This is a common story across the state, Tedd Kelleher, the housing policy director at the state Department of Commerce confirmed in an email.

"The revenue drop off is significant, and both counties and the state are able to use COVID-related funds in the near term to hold services at current level," Kelleher wrote in the email. "But COVID funds are almost gone, and the revenue shortfall is likely beyond what can be mitigated in the middle term with fund management alone."

Whether the trend continues depends on the trajectory of the economy, and some projections say there won’t be any shortfall in the next biennium, Kelleher said.

Michele Thomas, policy and advocacy director at the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance, said she's hearing from counties across the state that they're seeing "at least" a 50% decline in funding for shelters and rental assistance programs.

"The smaller counties are also more at risk because they don't necessarily have the revenue available to make up for their county's shortfall," Thomas said. "But every county is impacted."

Thomas and other advocates are pushing the state to step in and move money around in the budget, which the state legislature is currently negotiating, to fill the holes.

Asked if she thinks Skagit County's homeless residents will head to neighboring Whatcom and Snohomish counties, Hinman said those counties are looking at their own reductions.

"I think we'll see an increase in people sleeping on the streets, people sleeping in their cars," Hinman said.

Scott Greenstone is a former KNKX reporter. His reporting focused on under-covered communities, and spotlighting the powerful people making decisions that affect all of us throughout Western Washington.