Gov. Jay Inslee spoke with community leaders this week at Evergreen Commons, a new affordable housing complex in Walla Walla, and said the $3 million investment funded by the Washington State Department of Commerce's Housing Trust Fund was well spent.
“We think this is an ideal vision for the state of Washington,” Inslee said during the meeting on Tuesday, March 14. “We have 25,000 people that are unhoused. Many of these people have mental health challenges. Many have chemical addiction problems. Many are just economically dispossessed ... being able to build housing like this is absolutely pivotal for the future of the state of Washington.”
Located at 1627 Evergreen St., Evergreen Commons, operated by the Walla Walla Housing Authority, houses about 65 individuals between the 29 units.
Renee Rooker, executive director of the Walla Walla Housing Authority, said what makes Evergreen Commons affordable is qualifying tenants pay about 30% of their adjusted gross income. The Housing Authority also attached project-based vouchers to help alleviate payments for very low-income residents, particularly those with no income at the present time.
Because of the high demand for affordable housing, Inslee said he recognized the need for funding and proposed last year that $4 billion of the $70 billion 2023-25 budget be allocated toward securing more affordable housing across the state.
Inslee's proposed housing referendum would permit the state to issue bonds beyond its usual debt limit to accelerate $4 billion worth of housing construction during the next six years.
According to the governor's office, the state's existing capital budget will support about 2,200 housing units from 2023 to 2025. In contrast, the referendum would fund about 5,300 more units during the same period and an added 19,000 units in the remaining years. However, the referendum would require approval from both legislators and voters.
Inslee said the budget would not include a tax increase.
The housing crisis has affected not only larger cities such as Seattle, but also smaller cities and towns across the state such as Leavenworth and Walla Walla.
At the meeting, City Manager Elizabeth Chamberlain emphasized the need for more affordable housing in Walla Walla County. Chamberlain said about 765 units are required to address the current demand. Looking ahead to the next 20 years, Chamberlain estimated that the total number of units needed between Walla Walla and College Place would be about 3,700.
Building on the urgent need for affordable housing discussed by Chamberlain, Inslee highlighted the broader implications of the issue during the meeting. Specifically, he emphasized that addressing the shortage of affordable housing is not only critical in its own right, but also in resolving other pressing problems, such as drug addiction. He explained that providing essential medical services to those in need is almost impossible when they are forced to live without basic shelter, such as a roof over their heads.
"I am asking them (the state of Washington) to go big so people can go home," Inslee said. "I think legislation ... we are going to have to ask them to have a little courage here. This is a big step forward. That's how you make progress. With big steps."
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