The Olympia City Council has approved formation of a committee that will examine options for reducing homelessness and building more affordable housing — including the possibility of asking voters for a property tax hike in the November election.
The Ad Hoc Committee on Housing Affordability will meet twice a month, the first time at 3:15 p.m. Friday at Olympia City Hall. The committee consists of council members who also lead three other committees: Jim Cooper, who chairs the Finance Committee; Julie Hankins, who chairs the Land Use and Environment Committee; and Jeannine Roe, who chairs the General Government Committee.
The goal is to find resources and partnerships to serve the region’s most vulnerable homeless residents, while increasing the amount of low-income housing. Other concerns include the impact of homelessness on businesses in downtown Olympia. The plan calls for community involvement in these discussions.
The committee will meet through the end of July, then present options to the City Council for consideration.
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One option the committee will explore is whether the city should put a housing-related measure on the ballot in the November general election.
A nonprofit advocacy group called the Home Fund, which consists of representatives from local social service agencies, is lobbying cities to ask voters for a property tax that could generate about $4.1 million a year.
The group says that money could be leveraged to build 500 units of affordable housing and help pay for services that keep people in that housing. A similar concept has been adopted by Seattle, Bellingham and Vancouver.
Olympia City Council members have reiterated the desire for Lacey, Tumwater and Thurston County to support Olympia in finding a solution to the affordable housing crisis.
The cost of housing shows no sign of slowing down: The average rent in Thurston County climbed from $971 to $1,058 in 2016, and about 500 households remain on a waiting list for rental assistance.
In addition, about 12 percent of Thurston County residents live below the poverty line, and another 23 percent qualify as struggling, according to a recent analysis by the United Way. The report shows that Thurston County ranks near the bottom in the state for housing affordability.
“We really want to include Lacey and Tumwater as much as we can in these conversations so that they’re aware of what’s happening in our area,” Roe said Tuesday about the committee’s meetings.