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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Safe, stable, and affordable housing is an important component of economic security for Washington families. According to a new report by the National Center on Family Homelessness, more than 24,000 children are homeless in Washington State.* The report ranks Washington 25th in the nation in child homelessness. (This is a composite of the number of homeless children in the state, an assessment of their well-being, the risk of children becoming homeless, and state efforts to address the problem.)

Among the homeless children in Washington State, close to 11,000 are under six years old, about 9,500 are between kindergarten and eighth grade, and over 4,000 are in high school. (See graph) Fifty-eight percent of Washington’s homeless children are white, 28 percent are Hispanic, and ten percent are black.

Food security is very low for one in 26 of Washington’s households, which is comparable to national rates of food security. Households living in poverty and headed by single women are especially vulnerable to hunger.

Homeless children in Washington are also more than twice as likely as middle income children to have moderate or severe health problems, such as asthma, dental problems, and emotional difficulties.

Less than 25 percent of homeless high school students in Washington graduate, which has a significantly negative impact on their lifetime earning potential.

Affordable housing
In Washington, it can be especially difficult for low-wage workers to find affordable housing. A full-time worker earning minimum wage ($8.07 per hour) in Washington would need to work close to 80 hours per week for 52 weeks a year in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent.**

For a typical homeless family, which consists of a single mother with two children, affordable housing can be even more out of reach. The average income for a single mother in Washington who receives public support is less than $550 per month, which means she could afford to pay $157 monthly in rent. The cost of a two-bedroom apartment at FMR would be $672 higher than that each month.

Shelter and transitional housing
Families in Washington seeking emergency shelter or transitional housing do have some options. The state currently supports 827 units of emergency housing or shelter for one family, 2,628 units of transitional housing, and 595 units of permanent supportive housing designated for families. In Washington, approximately 89 percent or 3,348 individuals, of the total number of people on wait lists for public housing are families with very low incomes. Washington State does give priority on the wait lists to families experiencing homelessness and to survivors of domestic violence.

Long-term investments
The state has made long-term investments in trying to address the lack of affordable housing. In 1987, the Washington State Housing Trust Fund was created as a source of capital funding to support affordable housing for lower income Washingtonians. The Fund supports the construction, acquisition or rehabilitation of over 4,500 units every two years. In 2008, the Fund was increased to $200 million for the biennium, but the need still exists for affordable housing.

*The definition of homeless children and youth used in the report is that described in Title X, Part C, Section 725 of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

**Fair Market Rent is defined as "the maximum chargeable gross rent in an area for projects participating in the HUD Section 8 program," and is set at the 40th percentile of market rents for units at each bedroom size as determined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. American Community Survey. (2006)

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