Legislative news

Several big priorities for DESC are now laws.

Health, housing and human services see historic wins in Legislature

The Washington state Capitol dome as seen through cherry blossoms

Among the historic health, housing and human services bills the Washington state Legislature passed this year were several big DESC priorities. Some are now law, while others await Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature. The landmark investments will benefit Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), affordable housing, tenants facing eviction, emergency shelters, racial equity in housing, behavioral health care access, crisis response and many other needs.

DESC Deputy Director Nicole Macri, who also represents the 43rd Legislative District, sponsored or co-sponsored several of the bills. Nicole attributes much of the progress and opportunity to the extra pandemic relief dollars in the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

“These are huge one-time and ongoing investments we’ve never had the opportunity to consider before,” Nicole says.

Here are some of the priority bills and where they stand.

House Bill 1070 affordable housing 

ESHB 1070 modifies the allowed uses of local sales and use tax revenue for affordable housing and related services to include buying and building affordable housing and behavioral health care facilities. It explains that “affordable housing” includes emergency, transitional and supportive housing, and allows some revenue from the state’s hotel/motel tax to go toward housing and facilities for homeless youth in counties with populations of 1.5 million or more. You can read the law, signed on April 14, here

House Bill 1277 eviction prevention

E2SHB 1277, signed on May 10, establishes a new source of revenue for eviction prevention and housing stability services. County auditors must now add a $100 surcharge on certain recorded documents, to fund various housing services, including PSH, property owner mitigation, distributions to the Home Security Fund Account and for nonprofit housing providers, rapid rehousing and acquisition. Funds can also go to project-based vouchers for nonprofit housing providers, foreclosure prevention services, rental assistance for people experiencing homelessness and tenant education and legal assistance. 

The law also creates the Eviction Prevention Rental Assistance Program at the state level. It aims to prevent evictions by providing resources to households most likely to become homeless or to suffer severe health consequences (or both) after an eviction. The money –$58.4 million for PSH operation, maintenance and services (OMS), and $89 million to prioritize chronic homelessness–is permanent, protected, ongoing and dedicated. The bill as signed on May 10 is here.

House Bill 1220 housing planning 

E2SHB 1220, signed on May 12, supports emergency shelters and housing through local planning and development regulations. It updates the state Growth Management Act (GMA) to require planning for and accommodating affordable housing, requiring jurisdictions to address the full range of housing, from moderate to extremely low-income, emergency shelter and PSH, as well as racial equity in housing policies, land use and zoning. Read the bill as passed here.

House Bill 1477 crisis response

 E2SHB 1477, signed May 13, enhances and expands the national 988 suicide prevention system to include behavioral health crisis response services. It also mandates a statewide system of call centers. The bill as passed in the Legislature is here

House Bill 1236 “just cause” eviction

ESHB 1236, the “just cause eviction” bill, protects residential tenants throughout their tenancies by penalizing unlawful lease provisions and limiting the allowable reasons for eviction, refusal to continue and termination. 

Low-income tenants now also have the right to counsel, under newly passed E2SSB 5160, which the state funded with $26 million. Inslee signed ESHB 1236 into law on May 10.

“Washington is now the fifth state with just cause eviction protection law,” Nicole says.

The bill as signed on May 10 is here.

Senate Bill 5476 substance use response

ESB 5476 responds to the State v. Blake decision by addressing justice system responses and behavioral health prevention, treatment and ongoing recovery support services, for people using or possessing controlled substances, counterfeit substances and prescription drugs. This bill invests in behavioral health, expanding DESC’s HOST street outreach model for people living homeless with the most severe behavioral health conditions, and scaling up the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion model (LEAD). LEAD requires police to first divert people to behavioral services and treatment, rather than arrest. 

The Supreme Court decision invalidated Washington’s penalties for simple drug possession. And while the bill brings back criminal penalties in the form of a simple misdemeanor, it directs police to divert people from charges and establishes a substance use recovery services plan to help people with substance use disorder (SUD) access support services. The services must be low-barrier, person-centered, informed by people with lived experience and culturally and linguistically appropriate. The state budget includes $12.5 million for the HOST portion this year and $1 million to increase contingency management services for people living with opioid and stimulant use disorder. It also calls for medical services in permanent supportive housing.  Also signed by the Governor on May 13, you can read the whole bill here.

More services in budget

The state budget includes funds for services beyond these bills, too: $350 million in construction and acquisition funds to expand affordable housing and non-congregate shelters; operating and services funds for permanent supportive housing; $95 million for the biennium; $63 million for a modest Medicaid rate increase for community behavioral health services; $517 million to expand an array of behavioral health services; $658 million to extend the state’s pandemic-related rental assistance program; $20 million for long-term housing subsidies for people with significant behavioral health needs; $26 million to fully fund the Housing and Essential Needs programs which provides rent support to people with disabilities; $250,000 to address workplace trauma experienced by staff who provide direct homeless services; $300,000 to study and recommend financial sustainability in PSH operations; $42 million to expand SUD services and support.