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Evictions feed the cycle of homelessness, UW expert tells state lawmakers

Could tiny homes help alleviate Pierce County’s homeless crisis?

Councilman Rick Talbert and assistant Mark Williams visit Thurston County's innovative Quixote Village homeless community to explore the potential they believe tiny homes can have in helping Pierce County deal with a growing crisis.
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Councilman Rick Talbert and assistant Mark Williams visit Thurston County's innovative Quixote Village homeless community to explore the potential they believe tiny homes can have in helping Pierce County deal with a growing crisis.

In Washington state, $100 can make the difference between having a roof over your head or being evicted.

“A large number of people evicted in Washington last year owed only a hundred dollars in late rent,” said Tim Thomas, a postdoctoral researcher in migration and economic stratification and segregation for the University of Washington. “About 80 to 90 percent of evictions are because someone fell behind on rent.”

Eviction rates in Washington have decreased since 2004, but they have remained steady since 2009. Thomas said that indicates there are fewer low-income households to evict because most of those people have already become displaced or homeless.

Thomas met with members for the Senate Housing Stability and Affordability committee on Wednesday, Jan. 16, to discuss the current state of homelessness and housing affordability and to offer potential solutions to the crisis facing Washingtonians.

“We’ve seen the issue of housing affordability and homelessness spread across our state,” said Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue. “No community is unaffected, and we think it needs an acute focus to address the problem at root levels.”

One of the root-level problems compounding homelessness is eviction due to rent increases. Washington state saw a loss of more than 80,000 affordable rental units between 2012 and 2017, which has kept eviction rates steady.

“We see an increase in homelessness starting in 2013, just one year after we started losing affordable housing,” Thomas said. “The myth of the migrant homeless doesn’t hold up. These are our people.”

It’s also likely that the steady stream of evictions feeds families into the cycle of homelessness because having an eviction on your record affects chances of getting housing, he said.

According to HUD Fair Market Rent Data and Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index, rent burden is defined as contributing more than 30 percent of your income towards rent. Forty-six percent of Washington state’s population is rent-burdened.

Rent data from HUD suggests that in Pierce County households need to make at least $55,000 per year in order to avoid becoming rent-burdened. In contrast, the overall Washington average income to avoid rent burden is $40,000 per year.

Diverse neighborhoods are at the highest risk for evictions, and protected classes are the most evicted and displaced. In Pierce County, 21 percent of those evicted were black adults between 2012 and 2017, according to data from the UW Evictions Project.

Additionally, women were evicted the most in Washington between 2012 and 2017. In Pierce County alone, 20 percent more women than men were evicted.

Moreover, research by Thomas and his colleagues at UW has shown that evictions have long-lasting effects on health, income, employability and obtaining housing in the future.

Thomas had several recommendations for the Senate committee, including declaring a state of emergency.

Policies that incorporate a racial and gender equity lens are also necessary, because people of color and women face the most risk. Tax abatements based on low-income also would help ease the rent burden for some.

Development density is paramount, too, Thomas said.

So far several bills have been introduced in the Senate to combat the homelessness crisis. A few are designed to offer property-tax exemptions for certain qualifying people, such as senior citizens, those with disabilities and veterans.

A bill designed to create a pilot program for hiring homeless persons to complete city beautification projects also was introduced.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do as a committee to help solve housing issues everywhere in the state of Washington,” said Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake.

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