April 9, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 15


Docu-drama set in Olympia

By Aaron Burkhalter / Staff Reporter

A legislative showdown may yield few changes to how homeless service funding is spent

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In the final moments of the legislative session, the Washington State Legislature renewed a $40 fee on each real estate filing until 2019 to fund services for homeless people. The fee was scheduled to end in two phases in 2015 and 2017.

Lawmakers fought over the bill. Some said they wanted more oversight of how the fee is used, while others sought to preserve the funding and maintain flexibility to disperse funds where needed.

Finally, they landed on a compromise: Senate Republicans would agree to continue the fee until 2019, so long as a portion of the funding was used as vouchers to pay for housing in the private market.

Now, nearly a month since the session closed, it’s unclear whether the change will end up being a windfall for landlords.

Real Change reported last month that $100 million would be reserved for open market rental vouchers (“Private real estate companies to get homeless services money, thanks to compromise in Olympia,” RC, March 19). Now, the state Department of Commerce, which oversees the funds, projects that landlords will receive about $30 million of the projected $192 million the fee will generate from 2015 to 2019.

No net change?

Some counties may already be putting this money into open market rental vouchers. According to the Commerce Deptartment, it’s possible the vouchers are already being used to pay landlords. The state just has to account for it now.

“I’m pretty certain that in some communities it will make no difference,” said Tedd Kelleher, managing director of the Housing Assistance Unit at the state Department of Commerce.

And yet King County officials fear that the change will take funding away from emergency shelter and transitional housing.

“We’re very concerned,” said Katy Miller, King County homeless and housing program coordinator.

How it works

Whenever people file real estate documents, county auditors collect a $40 fee. From 2015 to 2019, this amount is projected to total $192 million. Counties automatically keep a portion of the funding — a projected $115 million.

The state manages the remaining $77 million, which is distributed to counties across the state through grants. The new law means that 45 percent of the pool the state distributes — about $30 million — must go to open market rental vouchers. King County receives $4 million a year from this revenue pool. Between $1.5 million and $2 million will have to go to landlords.

Miller worries that this means King County shelter and transitional housing services will get a smaller amount of funding.

Not previously tracked

Right now, 22 percent of King County’s real estate filing fees go to shelter and transitional housing and 58 percent go to emergency assistance and rental assistance programs. Miller said some of the rental assistance goes to pay rent on the open market, but she’s not sure how much.

“That is something we have not had to track previously,” Miller said.

Likewise, until now the state wasn’t required to account for how much of the state portion goes to rental vouchers for market-rate housing, Kelleher said. It’s possible that landlords across the state already receive 45 percent of the state funding, but the state is still researching the question.

Landlords already get the bulk of rental assistance money. The Commerce Department did a random sampling of all its rental assistance programs in 2012 and found that 90 percent of the money goes to private landlords.

The state has some wiggle room in how it allocates the money. One county may use most of its funding in the private rental market, while another county could use very little, just so long as it adds up to 45 percent of the state’s share of the funding.



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