March 19, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 12

News

Private real estate companies to get homeless services money, thanks to a compromise in Olympia

By Aaron Burkhalter , Staff Reporter

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Lawmakers in Olympia preserved funding for shelters and other homeless services, but there’s a catch: Almost half of the money created by document recording fees will go to pay private rental companies.

Hours before the Washington State Legislature closed its 2014 session, legislators agreed to extend the document recording fee, a $40 surcharge on real estate filings, until 2019. Portions of the surcharge were set to expire in 2015 and 2017.

The fee will collect an estimated $225 million from 2015 to 2019 for shelters, housing and other services for homeless people. In 2013, the fees paid for case management at Evergreen Treatment Services housing program, housing services for two YMCA programs, and veterans housing at the Compass Center, to name a few.

Starting in 2015, however, 45 percent of the fees — a little more than $100 million — must be used to subsidize housing in private rental properties.

Until now, counties could distribute all the funding wherever it was needed, said Joaquin Uy, spokesperson for the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance.

“Before, they had some flexibility,” he said.

Housing advocates had proposed making the fee permanent earlier this year. They had bipartisan support for such a move up until the end of February, after the bill had passed out of the House and was being considered by the Senate.

Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, stopped the discussion on that change in the Senate’s Committee on Financial Institutions, Housing & Insurance on Feb. 27.

Just as the bill came up for discussion, Angel dropped the gavel and ended the meeting.

Angel said that all stakeholders were not in agreement on the bill and that lawmakers could discuss it again between sessions. She said the legislature should consider more reliable methods of generating revenue for these services.

Since then, housing advocates and lawmakers have been haggling to revive the bill in some form. Senate Republicans agreed to extend the fees with some conditions: additional auditing and oversight, designation of a portion of the money for private companies and creation of a task force to study alternative funding methods.

The law passed with support from Democrats and Republicans, despite reservations from some lawmakers.

Before the final Senate vote March 13, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said rather than earmarking money for real estate companies, it is more cost-effective to put all of the funding for homeless services in the hands of the nonprofits that provide them.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, characterized the bill as a compromise, even though he wanted to make the fees permanent.

“Although it’s not everything many of us wanted, it’s a lot of what we wanted,” Benton said.

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