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Housing Crunch Hits WA Veterans and Families

April 7, 2008

Bremerton, WA – About one-third of Washington residents are renters, and many struggle to pay the rent. A new, national report on housing affordability says the average Washington wage is almost $14 an hour -- but it takes $16 an hour, working full-time, to afford a basic two-bedroom apartment. At a minimum wage job, the report suggests it requires 79 hours of work per week, just to pay the rent.

One group that's been hit especially hard by the lack of affordable housing in the state is veterans, who end their tours of duty to come home to government cutbacks in the programs designed to help them ease back into civilian life. At the Washington State Veteran's Home, Ray Switzer runs a transitional housing program that provides shelter and skills training for homeless veterans in Kitsap County.

"We have roughly 7,000 homeless veterans, within the state borders of Washington. We have 33 housing vouchers in Seattle set aside for homeless veterans."

Switzer explains the Veterans Administration is doing as much as it can, but is unprepared for the numbers of people who will eventually come back from the Iraq war, many facing emotional as well as financial problems. He says many Americans don't realize that one-fourth of the U.S. population has served in the military.

This year, the Washington Legislature voted to include veterans in the state's anti-discrimination laws. Switzer believes it's more proof of the tough time returning vets are having, both with housing and employment. For soldiers still deployed overseas, adds Switzer, spouses are working even harder to hang on while they're gone.

"If we don't legislate some of those things that provide some assistance in those areas, for that period of time when they've been in harm's way, I think it will become increasingly difficult for folks, as they come home, just to maintain the housing that they may have."

The annual housing cost survey, "Out of Reach 2007-2008" is available online at www.nlihc.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA