It’s no secret that housing in King County has become increasingly unaffordable throughout the last two decades. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has shed light on the stark inequalities that members of our community face. Without renter protections, between 200,000–300,000 households across the state could be vulnerable to eviction right now.
This year, the ADS Advisory Council is advocating for “stronger protections to keep low-income families, older adults, people with disabilities, and veterans safely and stably sheltered.” 2021 will undoubtedly pose challenges for leaders at the state and local levels as they grapple with the exacerbated need for affordable housing that COVID-19 has imposed on King County residents.
A greater percentage of households with older adults than those without spend 30 percent or more of their total income on housing. Additionally, a greater percentage of households with older adults earn less than half of the Area Median Income, with a quarter of households unable to afford the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in King County without assistance. Stable housing is crucial for protecting the health and wellbeing of older adults who can experience disproportionate impacts of homelessness and poverty.
The Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services and other community groups such as the Low Income Housing Institute and Housing Development Consortium are advocating for record-breaking investments of more than $200 million in the Housing Trust Fund. The fund, which is operated by the Department of Commerce, helps provide homes for low- and medium-income individuals and families. It offers home repair services, weatherization, and foreclosure and relocation assistance. The Department of Commerce provides tools for local governments, nonprofits, and community action agencies to expand housing accessibility for all.
2020 also saw an unprecedented amount of local investment in rental assistance and eviction prevention programs. The King County Council allocated over $41 million in emergency aid for individuals and families in the county who were financially impacted by COVID-19.
Governor Inslee’s 2021–2023 budget proposes to invest over $230 million in supportive housing, rent assistance, and transitional housing. The proposed budget also includes investments to build and preserve affordable housing units in an effort to mitigate the impact of homelessness statewide. Supporting these and similar relief programs, which have played a crucial role in protecting households facing financial hardship throughout the pandemic, remains on the priority list for the upcoming legislative session.
In order to keep up with housing demand, many Puget Sound communities are embracing infill housing opportunities, such as accessory dwelling units (also called ADUs or mother-in-law suites) and cottage clusters, which promote denser, accessible, community-oriented development. Outside of direct economic relief, proactive planning strategies will play an important role in expanding and ensuring the availability of age-friendly housing throughout our region in the present and for the future.
The population of Americans over age 65 is expected to double by 2050, and the Seattle region may welcome up to two million more residents over the same period. Keeping up with demand for affordable and accessible housing will likely become, and in many ways already is, one of the most defining policy issues of our region.
Equitable access to housing across the diverse communities within King County helps facilitate a vibrant culture and greater economic opportunities for all who call this region home. This is an especially relevant challenge for the year 2021, but also one that will continue to be of major concern in the coming years.
For more information about how you can support the ADS Advisory Council’s legislative priorities, view their agenda here.
Contributor Justin Englund holds an internship at Aging and Disability Services. Justin is a student at the University of Washington interested in housing and transportation accessibility.