Inslee signs affordable housing, mental health tax pushed by Spokane City Council

Olympia Statehouse

SPOKANE, Wash. — Governor Inslee signed House Bill 1590 into law, which will allow local governments like the Spokane City Council to put more resources toward affordable housing.

The City Council says they have been pushing for the bill to pass for two years.

House Bill 1590 was originally sponsored by Rep. Beth Doglio, as a priority to address what the Council calls “an acute lack of affordable housing.”

This new law allows local governments to apply a local sales and use tax of .001 percent, all of which goes to affordable housing and mental health services. The City Council says that, according to initial estimates, roughly $6 million could be generated every year at a low cost for households.

Under this new law, the Council says they could approve the new revenue stream as soon as October 1.

Under House Bill 1590, 60 percent of the tax revenue goes to the development of housing for veterans, domestic violence victims, low-income families and disabled, mentally-ill or elderly people. The rest would help fund mental and behavioral health programs for those very residents.

“We are exploring innovative ways to create home ownership opportunities for low-to-moderate income families, in addition to traditional affordable housing development aimed at renters,” said Spokane Council President Breean Beggs. “This is an exciting opportunity to get creative about developing long-term solutions for people with housing and behavioral health challenges while being accountable to taxpayers.”

The Council says that when the bill was announced, it saw lots of support from affordable housing advocates, but became mired in negotiations over who would institute the tax first, city or county.

Legislators Andy Billig, Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli helped push the bill forward during the legislative session, where it was determined that counties would levy the tax first. If they did not institute it by October 1, then the cities would be given the chance to enact it with a majority vote.

“I am hopeful we act on this as soon as possible. It’s not a cure-all, but it is an important step we can take this year to address Spokane’s housing crisis,” Beggs added. “This approach will give everyone buying goods and services in Spokane an opportunity to pitch in and help some of the most vulnerable among us.”