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Activists and social service providers continue to pressure Olympia leaders to reduce homelessness and increase the amount of affordable housing.
In May, the city is expected to hire Elway Research to survey residents online and via telephone about their preference for a property tax that could help build 250 new units of affordable housing. The housing proposal stems from a campaign by the nonprofit advocacy group Home Fund.
A committee of three Olympia City Council members also has been exploring options for ways to address this issue. It’s up to the council to ask voters for the housing levy, and the city’s deadline is July 25 to put such a measure on the November election ballot.
Some people may bristle at the thought of another tax. But advocates say a public investment in housing and social services could save taxpayer dollars by keeping chronically homeless people off the streets — and out of jails and emergency rooms.
“We have a small cluster of people with a radically high public cost,” said Phil Owen, program director for SideWalk, which connects the local homeless population with housing, case management and rental assistance. “But the vast majority (of homeless residents) are relatively low-need and can be served cheaply.”
Owen, who is part of the Home Fund group, said there are 499 cases in the Olympia area that score highest on the vulnerability index, an assessment tool that determines a client’s mental and physical health risks.
Treatment for mental health issues and substance abuse is most successful when these clients have a safe place to live, he said. The levy is necessary because of the rising cost of housing in Thurston County, coupled with the opioid epidemic and federal cuts in mental health care funding.
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On July 11th, the city council unanimous passed two separate, but related proposals. The first is a public safety ordinance set to go on the ballot in November 2017. This public safety initiative would increase Olympia’s property tax by 44 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. This measure includes elements such as a mobile mental outreach unit and increased downtown walking patrol and a diversion court to keep people out of jail.
The second item passed by the Council was a resolution declaring their intention to place The Home Fund’s proposal on the February ballot, which would build permanent supportive housing units for Olympia’s most vulnerable households. This measure would increase the city’s sales tax by one-tenth of 1% and generate about 2.1 million per year in revenue for the development and services to provide permanent supportive housing units.
The two interrelated initiatives pair seek to address critical needs of homelessness and support services for our vulnerable community members. The first measure creates new crisis services and the second measure provides a path to stability for the most frequent users of our emergency medical and crisis services. After Olympia passes both of these measures, it will create a compassionate and holistic approach to helping individuals get out of homelessness.
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As a result of many months (and years) of hard work, the council directed staff to move forward with both a pubic safety and affordable housing measure this fall and February of 2018. There are pro's and con's to having a ballot measure in February, but we remain optimistic that the public will support both. A sales tax for housing will be indefinite funds vs. a property tax which would have a sunset of 7 or 10 years. It also draws on regional support, which appeals to some councilmembers and the public. In addition, having both measures increased support on council to being unanimous.
Thank you to everyone who showed up at the City Council meetings to testify and show your support. Because of your efforts, the City Council is moving forward to address homelessness!
Be sure to email the City Council and thank them for moving forward with this important action: firstname.lastname@example.org
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"Too many residents in Olympia and across the Puget Sound region are desperately in need of a roof over their heads.
Our South Sound community has already dug deep to help. Smart programs are under way to reduce the suffering. But just over 3,000 people become homeless anew every year, and more strategic help is needed for the roughly 500 in greatest need.
This is why we’re encouraged to see efforts by The Home Fund advocacy group to get a tax measure on the fall ballot in Olympia for supported housing."
Read more here: http://www.theolympian.com/opinion/editorials/article148808414.html#storylink=cpy
"A public forum on a possible housing levy for Olympia will run 6-7:30 p.m. Wednesday (March 29) at the United Churches, 110 11th Ave. SE in downtown Olympia.
The forum is sponsored by the Home Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group that is asking Thurston County cities to put a property tax on the November ballot to generate money for affordable housing. The goal would be to build 250 units of affordable housing over the next seven years and fund support services that would help people find and keep housing."
Read more here: http://www.theolympian.com/news/local/article141041838.html