It is evident –– here in King County and across the country –– that the solution to homelessness is housing. There simply are not enough apartments, townhomes, or houses that regular people can afford. Rents keep going up, and people are paying more and more for housing as a percentage of income.
Nationally, we are short nearly seven million units of affordable housing; in King County, we are short nearly 160,000 additional affordable units right now, with a total of 244,000 additional units needed by 2040. Our region is an attractive place to live and work, but housing stock has not kept pace with population increases, job creation, and wage growth, driving up prices to the point of unaffordability. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, two full-time minimum wage jobs won’t cover the fair market rent for a two bedroom apartment in Washington. That means people like waitstaff, childcare providers, delivery drivers, grocery clerks, warehouse stockers and airport workers are struggling to make ends meet.
For years, policy-makers have disproportionately invested in short-term solutions to homelessness, such as congregate shelters and tiny wooden huts, stopgaps and band-aids that were meant to be temporary but tend to become permanent. That habit is not sustainable and perpetuates the cycles and harms of homelessness. Instead, we should be building community by helping people who have been marginalized move into safe and stable housing. The stability of having a place to call home is proven to increase engagement with supportive services — stability means people have a chance to breathe so they can address health needs, substance use, and job training — and reduce the chances of returning to homelessness.
To solve homelessness, we must prioritize investments in stable, permanent housing options that are not segregated or redlined away but are woven into the fabric of our thriving, inclusive communities. Our neighborhoods can and should reflect our shared values.
With an increased investment that prioritizes housing in the short term, we can save significant costs in the long term by reducing the strain on things like emergency room care, law enforcement, and by maximizing the potential of our neighbors experiencing homelessness.
The question then becomes, where is the funding going to come from for additional affordable housing units and how do we ensure that the funding is spent swiftly, effectively, and equitably?
Earlier this week, I hosted A Conversation on Homelessness and Housing with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, State Rep. Nicole Macri, and King County Executive Dow Constantine where we discussed what homelessness and housing funds exist or will soon be available to the King County community and the steps necessary to ensure equitable, sustainable, and impactful implementation.
Congresswoman Jayapal highlighted the urgency of passing the Build Back Better Act, which as it is written, constitutes the largest federal investment in housing in the history of our country. Build Back Better would not only invest in much needed repairs and improvements to the existing public and affordable housing stock, but also incentivize the development of new affordable housing. Congresswoman Jayapal emphasized the importance of federal, state, and local officials working together with service partners and advocates to ensure that these federal investments reach our communities. While Build Back Better’s passage is now in doubt, Rep. Jayapal was optimistic that important pieces of the legislation can still become law during this Congress.
King County Executive Dow Constantine and state Rep. Nicole Macri provided updates on progress at the local and state level to get vulnerable residents into housing, including the acquisition of the 10th Health Through Housing site and proposed legislation such as HB 1866 that would invest in more supportive housing while also expanding the capacity of providers.
All three of our speakers reminded us of the importance of our continued advocacy. It is critical that we tell our elected officials at all levels to prioritize investments in housing. You can join We Are In and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance in asking our state legislators to invest in ending and preventing housing instability. You can also join the House Washington coalition in calling on state leaders to make homelessness and affordable housing a top priority this legislative session.
You can watch our full conversation below.