SEATTLE, WA – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday he wants to spend more than $300 million from the state’s emergency budget reserve to add 2,100 shelter beds and provide other help to combat homelessness.
In unveiling his supplemental spending plan in Olympia, Washington for the state’s current $52.4 billion two-year budget, Inslee said Washington must do more to find housing for people. The state has the fifth-highest per-capita rate of homelessness of all U.S. states.
“This homelessness problem touches every part of the state,” said Inslee, a Democrat.
In addition to adding shelter beds, Inslee wants to give rental and other housing assistance to more than 3,000 people. His plan would cost $146 million during the 2019-2021 two-year budget cycle and ultimately cost $300 million over three years. The state currently has about $2.5 billion in its emergency fund.
The Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, convenes next month and will consider Inslee's proposal.
In a statement, state Sen. John Braun, a Republican who sits on his chamber's budget committee, said it was good that Inslee didn't propose new taxes. However he faulted the governor for proposing new spending and for not addressing things like reducing the cost of vehicle registration and and property-tax breaks for low-income older people.
"There’s a real contrast between what the governor views as important and what Senate Republicans have been hearing from the public,” Braun said.
Inslee said the state's booming economy driven by technology companies such as Amazon helped draw a half-million new residents over the last five years, driving up housing costs and exacerbating homelessness.
Inslee said he wants to reduce the number of homeless people by 50 percent over the next two years. The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness said as of January 2018 there were more than 22,000 people without shelter in the state.
Inslee said he was proposing no new taxes in his supplemental budget and defended the use reserves for his homelessness plan, saying the money was needed immediately.
“We need to start making this investment right now," he said. “This is a crisis."
The governor said the state would work with local communities on issues affecting the homeless like mental health, drug addiction and job training.
Inslee announced his initiative on the same day that King County, Washington's largest, marked the creation of a new Regional Homeless Authority to serve the greater Seattle area.
King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed an agreement that would designate the agency to coordinate the county and city response to homelessness. It would begin next year with $130 million in funding from the county and the city.
The homelessness problem is particularly acute in the Seattle area, with an imperfect one-night count earlier this year estimating more than 11,000 homeless in King County and encampments in parks and freeway underpasses.
Seattle has driven much of the economic and population growth in Washington state, with Amazon and other tech companies hiring tens of thousands of well-paid workers.