Dec 15, 2022 - Politics

Inslee wants voters to approve $4B for affordable housing

Photo illustration of Washington Governor Jay Inslee with lines radiating from him.

Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Washington voters could be asked to approve $4 billion next year to help address the state's housing and homelessness crisis — but state officials say it won't raise taxes.

Why it matters: Homelessness in the Seattle area has gotten worse in recent years, with more people living unsheltered now than two years ago, according to countywide numbers.

Driving the news: Gov. Jay Inslee outlined the $4 billion request while unveiling his two-year budget proposal Wednesday.

  • If approved by the Legislature and later by voters, it would add about 7,500 affordable housing units statewide over the next two years, while preserving another 2,700 units, according to Inslee's office.

Details: The plan wouldn't involve a tax increase, according to the governor's office.

  • But voters still need to sign off on it, because it would require the state to take on more debt than is currently allowed under state law, Inslee's office said.

What they're saying: "We cannot fix homelessness unless we build more housing," Inslee said Wednesday.

  • He said that although the state has grown by about 1 million people in the past decade, fewer than 400,000 housing units have been built in that time, with the private market failing to keep up with the need.
  • He said his plan would let the state take out bonds to build housing more quickly.
  • "I believe Washingtonians want to see this problem solved," Inslee said.

Separately, Inslee's proposed operating budget, which he also unveiled Wednesday, would spend $70 billion over two years — roughly a 12% increase over the state's current two-year budget.

  • About $400 million in state money would go toward boosting behavioral health programs, including contracting to increase the number of mental health treatment beds in King County.

The other side: Senate Republican leader John Braun told Axios that even if Inslee's proposal wouldn't directly raise taxes now, it could result in higher taxes down the road.

  • That's because it would increase the debt payments the state has to pay in the future — and Democratic lawmakers in the majority may respond with a tax increase to try to cover those costs, he said.

However, Democratic state Sen. Christine Rolfes, the chamber's lead budget writer, told Axios that ensuring people have safe and affordable housing could help lower costs in other areas of the budget.

What's next: The Legislature will debate the governor's spending plan when it convenes next month and is expected to approve a final budget in April.


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