Cities failing to permit housing for homeless people could soon see tax dollars withheld

Cities failing to permit housing for homeless people could soon see tax dollars withheld

by Laurel Demkovich

Cities that deny applications for transitional housing or emergency shelters for people who are homeless may soon face steep penalties from the state, under a proposal that passed the Washington House of Representatives late Monday. 

House Bill 2474 would empower the Department of Commerce to resolve disputes between cities and organizations trying to develop supportive housing. The department would oversee mediation and, if other remedies fail, could hold back state funding from cities found to be out of compliance with state law. 

The House voted 55-42 to send the proposal to the Senate. Three Democrats – Reps. Mike Chapman, of Port Angeles; Tana Senn, of Mercer Island; and Amy Walen, of Kirkland – voted with Republicans against the proposal. 

Supporters of the policy say it is a way to ensure that cities follow state law when it comes to siting housing for people experiencing homelessness. 

It comes after the city of Kenmore canceled an affordable housing project amid an outcry from residents. That decision drew backlash from housing advocates who said the 100-unit project could have helped reduce homelessness. 

Opponents of the policy say it takes away too much control from local governments and that cities are in the best position to address homelessness in their communities.

Bill sponsor Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, said the policy is meant to address bad actors who consistently refuse to follow state law. 

“Just as we hold people accountable, we need to hold our cities accountable,” Peterson said. 

He said the bill gives Commerce the means to resolve disputes before enacting penalties, but if the department finds a city is acting in bad faith, there are “harsh” remedies. 

The bill would provide an appeals process for cities before the department issues any penalties. 

If Commerce found that the city should issue a permit under state law but failed to, it could withhold revenue from the state motor vehicle tax, the sales and use tax, the liquor excise tax and other taxes that local governments are entitled to from the state. 

Republicans pushed back on the proposal. 

Rep. Spencer Hutchins, R-Gig Harbor, called the proposal “a baseball bat to communities” and said there were more gentle ways that the Legislature could encourage cities to follow state law. 

“This is not a bill about partnership,” Hutchins said. “Communities would like a partner in the state Legislature. Not a boss.” 

Republished with permission. Read the original article.

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.