OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Gov. Jay Inslee called on lawmakers Tuesday to make affordable housing and ending homelessness their top priorities this session.
During his State of the State address, Inslee said the entire state is facing a crisis. Last month, he proposed using $300 million from the "rainy day" fund to add 2,100 emergency shelter beds and expand housing programs.
Michele Thomas, director of policy and advocacy for the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance, said she appreciates the governor's commitment in his speech to embrace "big ideas."
"We have a crisis, but we also have an opportunity to show the rest of the country a path out, a pathway forward," she said. "It's going to take more than just investments in emergency shelter, but I really like the way that the governor is starting this conversation."
Thomas said her group also would like to see the state add more investments in permanent, supportive housing. Legislative leaders have said tapping the state emergency fund isn't likely, since it requires a two-thirds majority vote. Republicans have said the state already has the funds needed to work on this issue.
Thomas said people across the state agree that housing affordability and homelessness are the biggest issues facing Washington. The latest state Commerce Department report found that about 10,000 Washingtonians are living without shelter and more than 11,000 are in temporary housing. She said the rainy day fund was established for emergencies such as this, and that Inslee wants to withdraw only a fraction of the $2.5 billion available.
"So we're not drawing it empty," she said. "We're taking a small portion of it and investing it into life-saving homelessness solutions to get people off of the streets so they don't freeze in this cold weather, and so that they have an opportunity to stability their lives and live in safe, healthy, affordable housing."
Thomas said her group is calling for investments as well as new laws, such as protections for tenants against no-cause evictions and lowering barriers for nonprofits to build affordable housing.
Inslee also spoke about the need for action on climate change in his address. The 60-day legislative session is scheduled to last through March 12.