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Housing Advocates' Big Priority In 2017: Defending A $48 Fee

"jo0966.JPG" by Mark Goebel is licensed under CC by 2.0

An obscure $48 fee Washington residents pay for filing real-estate paperwork is one of the most important weapons in the state's fight against homelessness, housing advocates say.

They're preparing to fight for the fee's future during next year's legislative session in Olympia, as an approaching "sunset" provision threatens to shrink the fee to $18.

Residents pay the so-called "document recording fee" when they buy a house or refinance a mortgage. It's estimated to raise $113 million over the next two years. Much of the money is distributed to counties to fund homelessness and affordable housing programs.

Lawmakers voted in 2014 to push the fee's sunset back to 2019. If the scheduled decrease takes place, revenue will shrink by an estimated $70 million over the following two years, according to the state Department of Commerce. 

One of housing advocates' top priorities next year is a lobbying effort to raise the fee to $100 and stop any future sunset provisions.

"It's really helpful for local communities, for service providers, to know that they're going to have this resource into the future," said Rachael Myers, executive director of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.

Myers said spiking housing costs and rising rates of homelessness are reasons to raise and extend the fee.

"Not only do we need to protect what we have, but we think that this is the right time to do more,"she said.

State Sen. Mark Miloscia, a Republican from Algona who has called for more accountability in anti-homelessness spending, said he supports extending the fee and is open to raising it, but added that a sunset provision helps lawmakers ensure the money is used effectively. 

"The advocates need to focus on the real issues, not just, 'Oh, how do we shovel all these issues under the rug until we get the money forever and there's no accountability,'" Miloscia said.

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