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Published on Friday, March 21, 2014

Homeless funding bill rises from the ashes

At times the chances for the bill extending the primary funding source for local homeless services looked very bleak indeed.  Despite the active support of cities, counties and homeless and human services advocates around the state, and the demonstrated efficacy of the local homelessness programs (unsheltered family homelessness reduced by 74 percent and total homelessness by 29 percent) it looked like the Legislature would let the document recording fees that fund these programs expire.  When HB 2368 was not moved out of the Senate committee before the relevant deadline, cities, counties and homeless advocates began to prepare themselves for how to deal with major cuts to these revenues halfway through the next calendar year. 

However, an interesting thing happened.  A flurry of newspaper editorials around the state pointed out how critical these funds were, and talks recommenced on how a bill might move forward.  To their credit, legislators of both parties worked to find a resolution.  Key among them were House sponsor Rep. David Sawyer (D-Tacoma), Senate sponsor Sen. Jeannie Darneille (D-Tacoma) and Sen. Don Benton (R-Vancouver).  Ultimately leadership in both chambers signed an open letter to the Governor proclaiming that the bill was not subject to the normal cutoffs, setting up a wild final week where the bill continued to be negotiated to almost the final hour.

A “title only” bill (i.e. a bill with no content and only a title, usually used as a vessel to revive legislation outside of the normal legislative process) relating to human services was chosen as the vehicle and was heard on March 10. SB 5875 moved from committee on March 12 and passed by both houses of the legislature on March 13 – with only hours to spare before the legislature adjourned.

In the end, the sunset of these fees was pushed out four years to 2019.  A new carve-out was made within the state portion of these funds to ensure that 45 percent of the revenues were used in the private for-profit rental market, and a series of audits are newly required to ensure that these funds are being used according to statute.  Although some of these policy provisions may have unfortunate consequences on service delivery, ensuring that the funds will continue to be available was critical.