Recently, the Legislature allowed for a system where temporary housing voucher assistance may be administered to an eligible offender upon release to aid that person in getting back on their feet. Vouchers must be provided in conjunction with additional transition support programing or services such as substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, sex offender treatment, and educational or employment programming.
Currently, a city has very limited options for regulating sex offender housing. In 2006, the Legislature passed a bill prohibiting local governments from establishing residency restrictions on sex offenders. In an effort to address cities’ concerns, the signed bill provided a caveat: if a sex offender meets certain criteria under RCW 9.94A507, that person is prohibited from living within 880 feet of a public or private school. These criteria focus on the worst crimes and crimes against children.
Some cities are now experiencing property owners who target rental housing at the sex offender voucher program and allow multiple offenders to reside in a single household, often overcrowding above the typical capacity. Communities are concerned how a house with multiple sex offenders will affect the surrounding community. Officials are also concerned that these landlords are taking advantage of the voucher program and creating an environment that is unsuitable for offender rehabilitation.
The City of Marysville has been dealing with this situation and is proposing legislation that would focus on the rules for the voucher program in an attempt to remove the profit motive for landlords looking to take advantage of the system, the vulnerable offenders, and unaware neighborhoods. The proposed legislation would allow the Department of Corrections to provide rental vouchers only when the property meets local fire, safety, zoning and land use requirements.
Studies indicate that sex offenders are more likely to recidivate when they are without housing and employment. So the focus of this proposal is not to place restrictions on where offenders can live, but to focus on creating some accountability in the housing voucher program.
If your city has also experienced this kind of housing issue and you are interested in supporting this proposal, please contact Brittany Sill or Candice Bock.