Inslee wants $4 billion for affordable housing. In WA, it’s a steep price worth paying | Opinion

Ted S. Warren/AP

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee must feel emboldened — and he has every right to.

He’s in his third term. Thanks to King County and the aftertaste of Donald Trump, he governs in a state with a bullet-proof statewide majority for Democrats. He wielded expansive emergency powers for more than two years during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — issuing directives from his office that affected the lives of each and every Washingtonian, unchecked — and a majority of lawmakers in Olympia are apparently cool with how the division of power played out.

Some people hate him. Others love him. What’s not up for debate is the governor’s chutzpah. He’s not afraid to go big — or be the lightning rod for big, progressive ambitions.

Inslee’s latest massive idea is just that — massive. It would funnel $4 billion in borrowed money over the next six years toward the emergency construction of affordable housing and homeless shelter space, as The Seattle Time’s Claire Withycombe recently explained. Think of it like a capital project; the state regularly borrows money to build all sorts of big-ticket stuff, like buildings and bridges. Same deal here, only for housing.

The plan, described as the centerpiece of Inslee’s 2023-2025 budget proposal, would require approval from state legislators and voters — who would need to sign off on the state exceeding debt limits prescribed in Washington’s constitution.

That’s one thing that makes it so audacious. But audacity is exactly what the state needs to solve its affordable housing crisis.

The time for nibbling around the edges and piecemeal approaches has come and gone.

If someone’s going to be bold, it might as well be Inslee. He has the clout and the thick skin to push the conversation forward, and until we do something big, we’ll continue to lose ground.

You don’t have to be a math major to understand the scope of the problem Washington faces. There are roughly 25,000 people experiencing homelessness in Washington, second only to California, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual homelessness assessment. As Inslee’s executive director of communications, Jaime Smith, told the Times, the $4 billion investment the governor has proposed “would allow us to build about that many units through a combination of supportive shelter, supportive temporary and permanent housing, and affordable housing.”

Twenty-five thousand is a lot of people, and it doesn’t even take into account all those teetering on the brink of being homeless. Regardless of what you believe about root causes — or precisely how many units $4 billion can build — there’s little doubt Washington desperately needs thousands and thousands of new, affordable homes to stem the tide of a crisis that’s consuming lives and communities.

At the local level, there are also plenty of reasons to support Inslee’s proposal — at least in broad strokes. For too long, cities like Tacoma and counties like Pierce have been forced to combat a severe affordable housing deficit with general fund dollars, small-time taxes and targeted state and federal investments. The projects this approach has produced have helped, but the reality remains: Alone, Tacoma and Pierce County are never going to have the resources it will take to build housing at the scale that’s necessary.

The affordable housing crisis is a statewide crisis, and it requires a new statewide approach.

When the governor unveiled his budget in December, he put it this way:

“Our traditional systems for funding housing take an incremental approach, but if there was ever a time we need to move faster, it’s now … Homelessness and housing shortages are burdening every community in Washington. We can’t wait decades to build, we need housing now or the numbers of people sliding into homelessness will grow.”

For Washington to build the housing and shelter space it needs, it’s going to take a game-changer.

It’s time to go big, so people can go home.