Puyallup residents' concern over a proposed halfway house in their city has prompted state lawmakers to try to restrict where released inmates can live on taxpayers dime.
A proposal that cleared a Senate budget committee Friday would create an approved list of housing options for released inmates whose rent is paid through the state Department of Corrections rental voucher program.
Officials in cities like Puyallup could weigh in on which properties would go on the list, and the state Department of Corrections would have to consider whether proposed inmate housing would clash with the character and zoning of the surrounding neighborhood.
The measure also would require corrections officials to limit the number of properties per neighborhood that they use to house ex-inmates.
The legislation stems from community outrage that surfaced in Puyallup last summer. Hundreds of Puyallup citizens mobilized against a proposed group home that they worried could house multiple sex offenders, telling the Puyallup City Council that such a property was inappropriate in a residential area close to schools and day cares.
Puyallup Sen. Bruce Dammeier, who introduced Senate Bill 5105, said that although the Puyallup property never became a reality, he wants to help give cities more control over where state-subsidized halfway houses can locate.
Had this gone through, I think it would have been a bad implementation of the (rental voucher) policy, said Dammeier, a Republican. I think it would have been bad for the neighborhood, I think it would have been bad for the city, and I think it would have been a bad transition for these offenders. So I think it would have been the worst of all circumstances.
The states rental voucher program, which legislators approved in 2009, was designed as a cost-saving measure for the Department of Corrections. It allows the agency to pay up to $500 a month for three months to house offenders who have earned early release through good behavior, rather than keeping them in prison past their earned release date. Finding housing is one condition of an offenders release plan.
A fiscal analysis of Dammeiers bill estimates it costs $31 dollars per day to keep an inmate in prison, though Department of Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said the total cost of housing an inmate is actually closer to $90 per day.
It costs the department only about $16.50 per day to pay $500 a month for an offenders rent. Puyallup officials testified in favor of Senate Bill 5105 at public hearings, saying they support provisions that would require the Department of Corrections to notify local governments of plans to house offenders in their jurisdictions. The bill would give local governments the opportunity to challenge those decisions.
We are not about preventing Level 3 sex offenders from coming back into society, having served their time ... They have that right, said Puyallup Mayor Rick Hansen. This is about protection of health, safety, welfare of residents, and preservation of the character of neighborhoods within our city.
Puyallup officials passed an emergency measure in August 2012 temporarily preventing group homes with two or more felons from cropping up in residential neighborhoods.
That ban is still in effect, but the city is looking for a more permanent solution, Hansen said.
Officials from the City of Marysville also testified in support of the bill, saying that they have run into problems with as many as 10 released offenders living in a single two-bedroom home.
Under Dammeiers bill, offenders living with three or more other released inmates under the rental-voucher program would receive additional check-ups from the Department of Corrections, helping ensure they are participating in the transitional programs required by their release plans.
A fiscal analysis attached to the bill estimated that it would add $70,731 in yearly staffing costs for the Department of Corrections, as well as create an additional $48,228 annual burden on the prison system due to delays in finding offenders community housing.
The bill passed the Senate Ways & Means Committee last Friday on a 20-1 vote. But defense attorney groups and affordable housing advocates opposed the measure because it would negate provisions of the residential landlord-tenant act in some cases. The bill would allow offenders who are staying in clean-and-sober housing to be evicted with two days notice if they violate the house rules.
It makes it easier to put some of these folks out on the street, which we dont believe is in the communitys best interest, said Nick Federici, lobbyist for the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.
Senate Bill 5105 now heads to the Rules Committee, which has the ability to put it up for a vote on the Senate floor.
Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209
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