By Kevin Patrick Fitzgerald
I see three bills on the floor presently in Olympia regarding housing. Jay Inslee proposes a large-scale affordable housing construction program; also funding assistance for people with addiction and other behavioral health diseases. Patty Kuderer proposes expanding a tax break incentive program to facilitate access to affordable housing for low-income families. Peter Abbarno spoke of an upcoming proposal to lower property taxes and loosen restrictions on population density, which can allow for larger apartment buildings with smaller apartments.
As far as decentralization goes, providing access to affordable housing, health services, smaller, cheaper apartments closer to work, and lower taxes all seem valid. The state funding large-scale construction projects seems like an opportunity for corruption, so vigilant oversight is called for if this plan moves forward.
More to the point, I think, we should decriminalize homelessness. For people who choose to live outside, the state can provide camping areas where people can set up a camp for free for a month. These camps can be regulated with background checks, have police on the premises, and people can freely migrate from camp to camp, returning after a month. We can use state parks and set up shuttle services for people who work. Forcing people to live inside and pay rent or go to jail for trespassing is unjust. Some people will still choose to live outside the camps, and that’s fine, but at least the state can provide safer options.
Also, we should make a priority of providing short-term subsidized immigrant housing. None of the three bills I’ve heard of address immigration at all. There are refugees on the border who need help, and we are in a position to provide such help. Immigrants should be allowed access to the homeless camps, too, and they should be allowed access to special immigrant housing grants. This is especially important in that it can help us prepare for future migration emergencies.
Thirdly, the state should focus on building a robust and flexible network of emergency shelters well equipped with medical supplies, food, and water. Natural disasters and migration crises seem to be on the rise; preparing for a wide array of contingencies seems prudent. Keeping such a network flexible includes having several facilities in every county. The state is doing this some, but it might have a higher priority if it were linked to the concept of emergency housing services.
Finally, we should have more access to a wider variety of drug treatment facilities. They should be small, diverse, and in every county. They should be short-term, long-term, and all in between. The state should fund the construction and staffing of more of these facilities. They already do this. It should be expanded. This should be a priority above the construction of quazi-subsidized housing with marginal access to counseling, which is fine, too.
The principle of decentralization can help guide policy to avoid sometimes unintended consequences of oppression and exclusion. Giving people more options is a healthier long-term path than trying to lump everyone together and force them into a box. Transitional housing is not new, and it is not easy, and it is not a one size fits all kind of project. Healthy transitional housing can help cultivate healthier communities. I would like to see more diverse opinions in our congress, but they seem to be making an effort to find solutions, and their proposals seem pretty good.