Inslee: Washington’s housing crisis is urgent
Gov. Jay Inslee is poised to deliver the “boldest things” promised to Washington residents in his budget released Wednesday.
In a virtual meeting with the editors of The Columbian on Thursday, Inslee said its $70 billion budget for the 2023-25 biennium will address the state’s three most pressing priorities: homelessness, mental health care and the transition to a clean one energy industry.
Inslee said everyone in the state has been affected by the homelessness crisis.
“We believe we need to have a reality-based budget, which means you need to make big investments to deal with the homelessness crisis that we have,” Inslee said. “It’s a real estate crisis. We don’t have enough houses. We may be last in terms of housing availability in our state per capita.”
Inslee said solving the shortage of affordable housing cannot be left to the private sector and that new homes must be built to meet the scale of the shortage. While the state has invested more than $500 million in recent years, that’s still not enough, Inslee said. He also said changes to zoning laws that prevent developers from building homes are still needed. He said he would again ask the Legislature to work on those changes in the upcoming session.
“We must come out on top because I believe Washingtonians are demanding an end to the misery that they see on practically every street corner across Washington state,” he said.
To fund the $4 billion Inslee plans to invest in building 26,500 additional housing units over six years, the governor is proposing a referendum that would allow lawmakers to bring forward construction costs. The referendum would have to be approved by voters and would allow the state to issue bonds outside of its debt limit.
If lawmakers and voters approve the referendum, the money would be spent on emergency shelters, housing for people with special needs, community behavioral health capacity, affordable housing units for low- and middle-income workers, and down payments and closing costs to provide support for low-income first-time buyers.
Meeting the state’s mental health needs begins with funding for Western State Hospital, which Inslee said is “critical to our efforts to allay the concerns of people who are in county jails and are not receiving mental health treatment.”
The governor wants to continue the state’s efforts to build community-based health clinics, particularly those that offer crisis interventions for youth.
“Homelessness and mental health go together because we know that such a large proportion of our chronically homeless people have significant mental health issues,” he said.
Inslee is also seeking to expand the Climate Commitment Act of 2021 and the Clean Energy Transformation Act of 2019, which committed the state to zero greenhouse gases in electricity supply by 2045.
“We’re proud of what we’ve done and now, because of the Climate Commitment Act, we have the opportunity to make the necessary investments to continue our efforts to build a clean energy economy,” he said.
The governor’s budget includes protecting the state’s salmon population and building five new hybrid-electric ferries while converting three ferries to hybrid-electric.
Although this latest budget — which includes $30.8 billion for education, $10.2 billion for social and health services, nearly $7.5 billion for the state health agency and $5.8 billion for provides higher education — about 12 percent higher than the current budget, Inslee said believes voters will support it.
“I don’t sell it that way; it’s what voters want to buy. I think they want to buy the end of homelessness,” the governor said. “I think they want to buy their kids the ability to get mental health (treatment) if they’re going through a mental health crisis. And I think voters want to be able to breathe air in the summer that doesn’t choke on wildfires. In order to achieve these goals, this type of investment is necessary.”