Record Homelessness Amid Housing Crisis in Washington State

Washington state's housing crisis worsens, with 28,036 people homeless, a 4% increase since 2016. The state's report recommends measures to address the shortage, including increasing funding and loosening local laws to allow more affordable housing.

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Record Homelessness Amid Housing Crisis in Washington State

Record Homelessness Amid Housing Crisis in Washington State

Washington state is grappling with a severe housing crisis, as a record number of residents struggle to afford rental housing, leading to a surge in homelessness. According to a new report by the Washington State Department of Commerce, 28,036 people are currently homeless in the state, a 4% increase since 2016.

Why this matters: The housing crisis in Washington state has far-reaching implications for the stability and well-being of its residents, particularly low-income and minority households. If left unaddressed, it could exacerbate social and economic inequalities, leading to increased poverty, health problems, and social unrest.

The report highlights the state's progress in addressing housing issues since 2015 and provides recommendations for the next five years. It reveals that while 155,214 units are available for low- or moderate-income households, this falls far short of meeting the demand, with 700,000 households at this income level. In fact, there is only one affordable home for every five households who need one.

The lack of affordable housing is particularly acute in King County, where 42% of the state's affordable housing is located. More than one-third of households statewide are considered "cost-burdened," spending over 30% of their income on housing, including utilities. People of color are also disproportionately affected, with much lower homeownership rates compared to white households, although this disparity has slightly decreased since 2015.

High rents and sharply rising housing costs are making it difficult for families to afford purchasing a home, with middle-income renters feeling that homeownership is out of reach. Michele Thomas, director of policy and advocacy at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, states, "Even middle-income renters are telling us that the dreams their parents had of prosperity, of having stability, of owning their own home feels like a bygone era." Thomas also highlights the constant churn of people moving from one unaffordable unit to another, contributing to the growing homelessness crisis.

To address the urgent need for affordable housing, Bellevue's City Council has set a new goal to create or preserve 5,700 affordable housing units over the next decade, a 110% increase from the past seven years and a 128% increase from the previous 10-year target. The council's decision focuses on accommodating households earning 80% or below the area median income, with a particular emphasis on those earning under 50% of the AMI.

The report recommends several measures to tackle the housing crisis, including increasing funding for developers and nonprofits to expand affordable housing, opening up more land for construction, committing dedicated long-term revenue to affordable housing programs, and loosening local laws to allow more types of housing to be built in more places. It also suggests speeding up permitting, offering incentives for affordable housing, implementing sales and use tax deferrals for building materials, establishing apprenticeship programs, and streamlining the state's building code.

The housing crisis in Washington state has reached a critical point, with a record number of 28,036 people experiencing homelessness and many residents struggling to afford rental housing. As rent prices and operating expenses continue to rise, forcing many to move out of state in search of affordable housing, urgent action is needed to address this growing problem. The recommendations outlined in the Washington State Department of Commerce report provide a roadmap for tackling the housing shortage and ensuring that all residents have access to safe, stable, and affordable homes.

Key Takeaways

  • 28,036 people are currently homeless in Washington state, a 4% increase since 2016.
  • 700,000 low-income households need affordable housing, but only 155,214 units are available.
  • 42% of Washington state's affordable housing is in King County, where demand is highest.
  • People of color are disproportionately affected, with lower homeownership rates than white households.
  • Bellevue's City Council aims to create or preserve 5,700 affordable housing units over the next decade.