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Friday, February 23, 2024
Feb. 23, 2024

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Inslee touts encampment clearing efforts, proposes more money for housing


SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee wants to put more money toward providing more housing options for people living in encampments near state rights of way, he said Thursday.

The governor returned to the site of an encampment in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle on Thursday to tout state and local efforts to get people out of encampments and into shelter.

Inslee visited the same site in March as it was undergoing cleanup. Last year he began a statewide effort to work with local governments to clear encampment sites from state rights of way.

Inslee said more than 1,000 people have been moved indoors from 30 encampments statewide.

In the nine months since people living at the camp at First Avenue Southwest and Southwest Michigan Street were offered other options, about half are living in permanent affordable housing, said Washington State Department of Commerce Director Mike Fong.

Fong said 30 out of 33 people who were living in the encampment in March were referred to “safer alternatives.” Twenty-four of them are still housed.

Inslee and other speakers were flanked by large before-and-after photos of encampments that had been cleared, including the First and Michigan site, as well as camps in Spokane and Thurston County.

The governor wants $100 million more to go toward a state fund geared toward quickly obtaining properties for people to live in. The money in the Rapid Capital Housing Acquisition fund goes to long-term housing options for people experiencing homelessness, he said.

“It’s like buying a house,” Inslee said. “So we’re not just paying one month’s rent. We’re actually creating an asset that’s going to last for decades so that other people can get out of homelessness.”

Fong said the program allows the state Commerce Department “the flexibility to identify housing alternatives as quickly as possible.”

Inslee is also asking for more money to fund the costs of the state Department of Transportation’s work clearing encampments.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said that as of Nov. 30, there are still 28 encampments on Washington State Department of Transportation sites in the city. On average, those 28 sites see 201 Seattle Fire Department responses per month, 265 Seattle Police Department responses per month and 77 crimes are reported at or near the sites every month, he said.

“These numbers would be much, much higher, perhaps even doubled, if [WSDOT] and the governor and the Legislature had not stepped up to do the kind of work they’re doing,” Harrell said.

2023 was a milestone year for housing in the state Legislature, as Washington faces a shortage of places for people to live. The need is staggering: the Department of Commerce estimates that the state will need 1.1 million more housing units over the next 20 years.

Legislators sidestepped Inslee’s idea to borrow $4 billion for a fast boost to the state’s housing supply during this year’s session, but by the session’s end in April lawmakers agreed to spend $1 billion for the next two years on housing, including $400 million toward a state fund that finances affordable housing projects.

They also passed a slate of zoning-related bills intended to ease housing development. For instance, they passed a law to allow more “missing middle” housing — duplexes, fourplexes and six-plexes — to be built in Washington cities.

Inslee is expected to propose a supplemental budget with additional spending on housing, like money to expand access to legal help for renters facing eviction and for short-term rental assistance. But legislators get the final say over how state money is spent. The session begins in early January and lasts for 60 days.