The latest state push to fund housing for those with disabilities

Advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities rallied on the state capitol steps on Jan. 17. The group is asking for rate increases for support staff and more funding for affordable housing. (Laurel Demkovich/Washington State Standard)

Last year, lawmakers set aside the most money in state history for housing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

But the $25 million only addressed a portion of the need.

This year, advocates are asking the Legislature for more, including another $25 million in the near term and a more permanent funding stream for the future.

“We have not kept up with the demand,” said Stacy Dym, executive director at The Arc of Washington. “We don’t want to lose this momentum.”

Last year’s funding was included in $400 million lawmakers set aside over two years for Washington’s Housing Trust Fund – the state’s main program for funding affordable housing.

The Department of Commerce last week announced 73 projects that would receive support from the fund. Ten are for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and will create 155 units across the state, according to the department.

Scott Livengood, at Alpha Supported Living Services, noted there is a large waitlist of developers who applied but didn’t receive funding in this round of awards to build housing for people with disabilities.

In the past, the Legislature has only funded this type of housing a few million dollars at a time, but an October 2022 study from the Department of Social and Health Services found that about 37,000 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities were at risk of not having stable housing that adequately met their needs.

In the past, Dym said there were only a handful of developers who would even apply to build this housing, but with this most recent pot of money, more have expressed interest.

Housing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is often more expensive and difficult to build than other types of affordable housing, she said.

The best type of housing is often single-family homes or duplexes and triplexes that have accessibility features, such as ramps or larger doorways. It can be difficult for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live in large multi-unit buildings.

It’s also important for people to live in a place where they are part of a community and also have support staff who can help with grocery shopping, personal care or transportation.

While all of these factors add to the cost of building and providing the housing, it needs to be available at a much lower cost than market-rate homes since most people with developmental disabilities rely on Social Security Income payments, which are only $943 a month for an individual.

It’s too early to say whether lawmakers will approve the additional funding this year. Legislators won’t know exactly how much money they can spend until the end of February, when the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council presents its revenue forecast. After that, they will finalize their budget proposals for the next year.

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, suggested the budget will be “quite restrained” this year and said she was not sure how far lawmakers would go toward fulfilling the $25 million ask.

Dym said she recognized that there might not be an appetite this year for that much spending.

“But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t hear about the pressing need,” she said. “There needs to be more of a commitment.”

Long-term funding option

Another option Dym said would help is a proposal for a new tax on the sale of expensive property sales.

Under the plan for this “transfer tax,” 25% of the revenue would go toward building housing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The rest of the money would go to other affordable housing.

The proposal, House Bill 2276, would impose a new 1% tax on any portion of a property sale price over $3,025,000. It would also lower the real estate excise tax for properties selling for less than $750,000. Estimates indicate the tax would bring in about $300 million every two years.

Marc Cote, executive director at Parkview Services, told the House Finance Committee last week that the transfer tax revenue would triple the amount that has previously been available for housing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The bill would also set aside money for maintaining existing homes, which Cote said is something that is important to ensuring the longevity of the properties but is not currently funded.

Shawn Latham, of Self Advocates in Leadership, a coalition of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, told the committee that the funding proposal is important to help keep people with intellectual disabilities housed.

“We know it can be harder for us to find accessible housing options that will work for us in our communities of choice,” he said.

More for supportive services

Housing is only the first step in helping support people with disabilities, Dym said.

Once they are in the housing, residents often need staff, sometimes full-time, and other services to help them live as independently as possible.

“It’s all interconnected,” Dym said. “The physical space has to go with residential supports.”

Advocates are asking for a 10% rate increase for supportive services staff, based on recommendations from a Department of Social and Health Services rate study report.

Supportive services staff often face low wages and benefits leading to high turnover and staff shortages, Livengood said. A rate increase, as well as increased funding for education and workforce development, could help the state recruit and retain more staff, he added.

The rate increase would cost the state about $53 million, according to the report.

— By Laurel Demkovich, Washington State Standard

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