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Washington Can’t Wait to Take Action on Climate Change and Equitable Housing

Washington Can’t Wait to Take Action on Climate Change and Equitable Housing

Tents on 4th Avenue, downtown Seattle

Tents on 4th Avenue, downtown Seattle

By Deborah Beckwin

Last January, I moved to Seattle from Florida and was disheartened by the lack of affordable housing—not only for me, but for unhoused folks.

A couple of weeks after my arrival, I was welcomed with about a foot of snow—an example of the kind of extreme weather that’s becoming more common in our region due to climate change. This was a temporary inconvenience, but it was fun for us. Our neighbors without homes were experiencing colder temperatures, snow, and freezing cold.

These two issues, climate changes and a shortage of affordable housing, come together and create unlivable circumstances for everyone, but particularly those experiencing homelessness.

As I began to explore Seattle, I noticed the tents and RVs, along with the places where homeless people called home like downtown, SoDo or Ballard. It was a strange experience for me as a social worker who has worked with people with severe mental illness and a history of homelessness. Seattle is so rich and progressive. How is that possible? It is happening all the time.

Then, a few more months later, there were record heat in June and wildfires. I was kept indoors by choking smoke, so I bought an air filtration unit. I was fortunate to have air conditioning.

Others were not so fortunate. Other people died—At least 13 people have been affected by heat exposure.The heat and smoke of the summer was particularly harsh on our neighbors who were not housed.

And then, there was the recent deep freeze which brought Christmas snow and ice that didn’t melt for a week. The snow began to melt and then another atmospheric river formed, bringing down rain in torrents, causing flooding.

House Bill 1099, which came close to passing last year, would require local governments to address the impacts of climate change in their comprehensive plans by reducing vehicle miles traveled and cutting greenhouse gas emissions—offering local governments an array of options to help stem the tide of climate change.

All of this can make you feel helpless and demoralized. It can be overwhelming and scary. There are many things we can do to address the current climate crisis and ensure that everyone has safe and affordable housing.

We can support two bills currently pending in the Washington state legislature. This is something we can do immediately. We have an extraordinary opportunity to shape the next decade and beyond, and create more equitable cities and states by updating Washington’s Growth Management Act, whose limits extend beyond city limits.

So let’s start with what’s already been accomplished.

Legislators passed HB 1220The 2021 plan will seek to create more equitable housing through the elimination of racist and income-based discriminatory state policies that have resulted in people being displaced. The new law prohibits cities allowing shelter or housing for people experiencing homelessness. It also encourages the development and maintenance of accessory dwelling units, such as backyard cottages. It also requires cities that have comprehensive plans, such Seattle, to plan more affordable housing for all income levels. They must also establish anti-displacement strategies and address discriminatory or exclusionary housing rules.

But the bill was passed without funding for local governments to actually implement these important policies and transform  the goals of this bill into reality. It is vital that the legislature provides funding for local community-based organisations to participate in the implementation process. This will ensure that the solutions contained within this bill are based on community needs and experience.

See Also

The sooner we pay this bill, the sooner governments can make equitable housing a reality for many years to come. Supporters can Get in touch with your legislatorsEncourage them to provide funding to make the goals of this crucial legislation a reality.

Another bill HB1099It focuses on making Washington cities and state prepare for the new reality: living in a climate emergency. The bill, which came close to passing last year, would require local governments to address the impacts of climate change in their comprehensive plans by reducing vehicle miles traveled and cutting greenhouse gas emissions—offering local governments an array of options to help stem the tide of climate change.

Seattle is currently revising the comprehensive plan, which is the regional blueprint for development. This major update is only once every ten years, so it is time to act on both these bills immediately. The plans we make today will have a long-lasting impact on Washingtonians in the years to come.

Washington cannot wait ten more years to take decisive action on climate change and equitable housing. We know that our legislature already cares for the environment—especially since HB 1099 has already passed the house, and is now in the senate. Now it’s time to pass these two critical bills.

Deborah Beckwin is a Seattle content strategist and copywriter. She has worked with people with a history of homelessness, severe mental health issues, and substance abuse problems as a Chicago social worker. She also managed projects supporting research on mental health outcomes at Northwestern University.

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