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Originally published Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 4:58 PM

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Guest: State about to drain money to help homeless

If nothing is done, real-estate fees would expire and essentially bankrupt funding for a critical thread in the safety net, writes guest columnist Steve Hobbs.

Special to The Times

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STATE senators of both stripes made dramatic attempts recently to make sure an important source of funding for state and county programs to prevent homelessness does not expire.

Sadly, as the legislative session nears an end, political wheeling and dealing is threatening to leave thousands of the most vulnerable in our communities out in the cold.

A couple real-estate surcharges are at risk of expiring if the Legislature does not pass ESHB 2368 now.

Whenever you buy a home, or file any number of real-estate documents, counties can assess a surcharge. Both state and county administrators depend on this money to fund various homelessness prevention and housing programs in communities across our state. Since the fees were created in 2006, overall homelessness has declined by 29 percent.

If nothing is done, $30 of this $40 fee would expire, which would essentially bankrupt funding for this critical thread in the safety net.

If these fees are not renewed, homeless and housing programs would lose $30 million in the 2015-17 budget period and $75 million by the 2017-19 budget period.

That’s more than half of the money for all state-funded homeless prevention programs in our state — gone. The Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharge goes toward domestic violence emergency shelters, rent-assistance payments for people who need a hand in times of crisis, and services to help transition homeless vets into safe housing.

These state funds have become even more important when you consider federal dollars for these programs have already dried up because of sequestration and other budget cuts. In my district alone, a youth shelter and a shelter for domestic violence survivors stand to lose almost everything if we don’t pass this bill.

Less than 24 hours before politics put thousands of homeless Washingtonians at risk, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction released a survey that showed more than 30,000 students in our state last year were homeless.

That is almost one student in each classroom.

So while people in Olympia debate the best ways to fully fund our K-12 classrooms and educate Washington’s 1 million school kids, insider politics have potentially made it much more difficult for many of those same kids to have a safe place to go after school. How can anyone expect a homeless kid to thrive?

This past Thursday’s actions in the Senate’s Financial Institutions, Housing and Insurance Committee were insider politics at their worst. As co-chair of that committee, I see firsthand the critical bills that pass through our hearings. But I rarely see a bill that means the difference between a safe home and the street.

I’m asking, pleading, with my fellow senators, who in the past have challenged the status quo to do right. We worked together to pass bipartisan ideas in the past. We can do right again by passing this bill.

We should be combating homelessness, not causing it.

State Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, represents the 44th Legislative District.

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