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Door Closes on Affordable Housing for Low-Income WA Workers

The ballooning cost of housing could also be fueling the rise in homelessness across Washington state. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
The ballooning cost of housing could also be fueling the rise in homelessness across Washington state. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
June 12, 2017

SEATTLE -- The door to even modest housing is shut to Washingtonians working low-income jobs, according to a new report.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition's annual study, called "Out of Reach: The Rising Cost of Housing," provides data by state on the widening gap between what workers make and the housing they can afford.

In the Evergreen State, the report said, workers need to earn more than $23 an hour to afford a no-frills, two-bedroom rental. One effect of the rising housing costs, according to Rachael Myers, executive director at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, is that it has directly led to a rise in homelessness.

"We've seen homelessness increase over the last several years in many parts of the state - in most parts of the state, in fact,” Myers said.

Housing is deemed "affordable" if it costs no more than 30 percent of a person's income. A worker at Washington's current minimum wage would need to work 86 hours a week in order to afford the average two-bedroom rental. According to the data, the state is the 10th most expensive in the country.

Myers said there are some solutions to the housing affordability crisis: At the federal level, she said Congress could reform the mortgage interest tax deduction - the country's largest housing subsidy - which amounts to about $65 billion each year.

"It benefits almost exclusively people who are middle- and upper-income earners,” she said. "It's people who own homes, can deduct their mortgage interest, and they only benefit from that deduction if they also earn enough to itemize their taxes."

Myers said state lawmakers also have options as their second special session winds down. House Bill 1570, currently in the Senate, allows counties to increase document filing fees for large real estate transactions, so counties can use the extra funds to work on homelessness.

Myers says the state also should include an investment in the Housing Trust Fund during its final budget negotiations.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA