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Announcing an Updated Homelessness & Housing Toolkit


October 18, 2019 by Steve Butler
Category: Homelessness

Announcing an Updated Homelessness & Housing Toolkit

Affordable housing and homelessness are two of the more challenging issues facing local governments today. In RCW 43.63A.510 affordable housing is defined as being:

housing that is rented or owned by a person who qualifies as a very low-income, low-income, or moderate-income household or who is from a special needs population, and whose monthly housing costs, including utilities other than telephone, do not exceed thirty percent of the household's monthly income.

While it is easy to define this topic, it is much harder for a local government to encourage new housing developments at all income levels.

Homelessness is another complex issue, which is further complicated by the various types of homeless populations, each with very different needs. For example, a person who has just been evicted due to the recent loss of a job may only need job search assistance and some time to find a new job, while a homeless person dealing with mental health or chemical dependency problems will likely need extensive medical and counseling support. Even so, all unsheltered persons share the common need for a safe and secure “roof over their heads.”

To help local governments address these difficult issues, the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) and MRSC prepared the Homelessness & Housing Toolkit for Cities (Toolkit) in 2017. I am happy to announce that an updated Toolkit has just been published that highlights some new tools and resources developed since the last edition. While the title includes the term “cities,” the Toolkit document contains information that is also applicable to counties.

New Sections on Homelessness

Homelessness and the limits on enforcement: A recent court case – Martin v. City of Boise – addresses the steps that local governments within the area covered by the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals (which includes Washington State) need to take to regulate homeless camping in public places and to enforce those regulations.

Using mitigation sites to address emergency homelessness: This write-up focuses on two case studies from Tacoma and Olympia. In Tacoma’s case, the city used a large FEMA-style tent to provide emergency shelter for the homeless. Olympia developed a downtown mitigation site with designated spots for 115 small emergency tents.

Taking a team approach to help people struggling with homelessness and behavioral health: Several Washington communities are successfully using a multi-service approach to address the needs of people living on the street. Mount Vernon, Olympia, Redmond, Seattle, and Snohomish County’s efforts are featured.

New Sections on Affordable Housing

How cities can make use of up to 20 years of affordable housing shared revenue: The passage of SHB 1406 during the 2019 legislative session has generated a large amount of interest by numerous Washington cities, towns, and counties. In a nutshell, this law establishes a new source of revenue for local government that comes from the state’s portion of the retail sales and use tax sharing program (no new tax to the public). For those cities, towns and counties that impose this legislation to receive the state shared sales tax, the income must be used for affordable housing projects, supportive housing services provided under RCW 71.24.385, and for providing rental assistance to tenants in those jurisdictions that meet the population criteria established within SHB 1406. Additionally, the housing and services provided under SHB 1406 may only serve persons whose income is at or below 60% of the median income of the county, city, or town that is imposing the tax. (See SHB 1406: Understanding the Affordable Housing Sales Tax Credit for a more in-depth review)

Down payment assistance programs: The success stories of Bellingham, Pierce County, Seattle, Tacoma, and ARCH (A Regional Coalition for Housing) are highlighted in this piece.

The new state law that incentivizes increased residential building capacity and density: HB 1923 lists steps that local governments can take to be eligible for state planning grant funds and to receive protection from GMA and SEPA appeals.

Additional Updates

In addition to the sections mentioned above, the Toolkit also includes the following new sections and updates to the original document:

  • A review and update of funds available for homelessness and affordable housing efforts.
  • A new section on how Bremerton addresses housing affordability and chronic homelessness.
  • An updated section on tiny homes and tiny home villages.
  • An updated section on rental housing inspection programs.
  • A new section on tenant protection laws. 

Significant topics that have carried over from the 2017 edition to the new Toolkit include: inclusionary zoning; community land trusts; the “Housing First” Model; winter emergency shelters; Lakewood’s city/nonprofit partnership approach; and how the City of Wenatchee manages and administers homeless programs for Chelan County and Douglas County.

Download the new AWC/MRSC Homelessness & Housing Toolkit for Cities today.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Steve Butler

Steve joined MRSC in February 2015. He has been involved in most aspects of community planning for over 30 years, both in the public and private sectors. He received a B.A. from St. Lawrence University (Canton, New York) and a M.S. in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Steve has served as president of statewide planning associations in both Washington and Maine, and was elected to the American Institute of Certified Planner’s College of Fellows in 2008.

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