Proposal for homelessness funding in flux

Staff writerMarch 10, 2014 

The state Senate budget committee Monday evening endorsed a one-year reprieve for a fee that pays for homelessness prevention.

The mostly Republican Senate majority, particularly Kitsap and Pierce county lawmaker Jan Angel, has taken some heat for squashing attempts to retain a partially expiring $40 fee on real-estate sales.

Budget chairman Andy Hill revived it as a one-year extension on Monday, but he and other Republicans rebuffed Seattle Democrat David Frockt's attempt to make the extension permanent. Hill said it was pitched as a temporary fee increase and making it permanent would be a bait-and-switch.

Republicans next defeated Frockt's pitch for a five-year extension.

But Hill indicated discussions were going on about the duration of the fee. Asked afterward if Republicans were willing to extend it for more than a year, Senate GOP Leader Mark Schoesler didn't rule it out.

"It's all up for discussion and debate," Schoesler said. "I think you saw a willingness of Sen. Frockt to move off of permanent. So everybody's working and I want to believe that everybody works in good faith."

Its fate may be tied to that of a proposal making veterans who move to Washington eligible for in-state tuition. Schoesler brought up that bill -- actually two bills, identical except in all ways except for the names of the legislators who get credit as the sponsors -- saying the homelessness and tuition proposals both remain in play.

Homelessness has fallen 19 percent or 29 percent since 2006, depending how it is counted. Democrats say the fee-funded programs are a reason why.

Republicans say not enough of the money has gone to private, for-profit landlords. The bill that passed out of committee would set a quota for those recipients.

HOMELESS VILLAGE 

Olympia's Quixote Village figured in the debate leading up to the committee vote.

Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela testified earlier Monday about the importance of the fees in funding the site, a permanent home for a formerly nomadic self-governing encampment for the homeless.

The camp has 30 tiny cottages and a community center with showers, a laundry room and a kitchen. It cost $3.1 million to build. Schoesler said the average price tag per unit raises questions about the projects being funded with the fee.

"That is a very expensive little lawn shed, and I think we should be asking hard questions, why you spend $100,000 for a 150-square-foot unit with no property cost," he said, "so I think there's a legitimate case to be made that we take a closer look before we make this tax permanent."

Responded Sen. Andy Billig, a Spokane Democrat: "The cost for that project was not just for the cottages. It was for all of the buildings and road improvements and all of the fees and everything that goes with it. The cost for each cottage was $19,000."

That's the price cited on the village's web site, which also says the total project cost per unit was $88,000, not counting donated land or services.

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