Today the Pierce County Council voted in favor of the Maureen Howard Affordable Housing Act, or 2022-81s, which will implement a countywide one-tenth of one percent sales tax increase for affordable housing and related services, as allowed by Washington State law. The earliest the tax can begin to be collected is July 1, 2023.
The impact to the taxpayer in Pierce County would be ten cents for every $100 spent, with groceries, medicine and certain medical supplies and hygiene products exempt from the tax. The Affordable Housing Act is dedicated to Maureen Howard, who died Jan. 5, 2023, for the years she spent fighting for housing, shelter, and dignity for houseless people.
State law requires the income generated from this sales and use tax supports programs and projects for people at or below 60% of the median income of Pierce County and have behavioral health conditions, are veterans or senior citizens, persons who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless, unaccompanied homeless youth or young adults, persons with disabilities, or are domestic violence survivors.
Pierce County will prioritize the revenue generated from this sales and use tax in the following ways:
- Up to 30 percent of the funds will go to projects serving individuals with income below 30 percent of the area median income.
- Up to 50 percent of the funds will go to projects serving individuals whose income is between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income.
- Up to 20 percent of the funds will go to housing-related services, behavioral health treatment facilities, and related programs.
In 2022, the estimated medium family income was $101,800, or $25,450 per person in a four-person household.
The sales tax is expected to generate approximately $20 million in revenue a year. The County’s Comprehensive Plan to End Homelessness estimates that Pierce County spends roughly $40 million a year to operate the homeless crisis response system and needs to spend an additional $117 million a year to fully fund the system in the next five years.
“This revenue source will give us access to much needed resources to help those in need of an affordable place to live, including our veteran community and those fleeing abusive, and often deadly situations at home,” said Council Chair Ryan Mello (District 4). “This Act will also help those who get up every day for work, but simply can’t find affordable housing in Pierce County. This Act will help build and preserve 600 – 800 affordable housing units every year in Pierce County.”
The Act tasks the Human Services Department with the development of a six-year advisory expenditure and implementation plan based on the allowed uses of the fund, the Council's identified priorities, and the goals and strategies contained in the 2022 Pierce County Housing Action Strategy. This plan will be created in collaboration with the Pierce County Community Development Corporation, the Behavioral Health Advisory Board, the Comprehensive Plan to End Homelessness Implementation Advisory Board, or successor organizations, and community partners.
The Housing Action Strategy was adopted in November 2022 and found Pierce County must build at least 50,600 housing units at 50% of Area Medium Income (AMI) or less by 2044. The strategy also found that over half of these units must be affordable to households earning 30% AMI or less.
“Just like the Maureen Howard Affordable Housing Act states, Maureen was fearless and committed to her advocacy for the homeless,” said Council Vice Chair Marty Campbell (District 5). “With the multiple investments this Act will make in addressing affordable housing, her legacy will continue; The Maureen Howard Affordable Housing Act will help thousands of people.”
The Pierce County Council must approve all expenditures from the fund and periodically establish funding priorities by resolution or through the Council’s normal budget process. Any unexpended funds remaining at the end of any budget year shall be carried forward from year to year and not be transferred to the general fund.
A key vote in the passage of this legislation was Councilmember and Executive Pro Tempore Dave Morell (District 1). In December, and again in March, he motioned for a continuance to allow more time to work through key details, such as spending priorities and accountability measures for spending.
“There is undoubtedly a need for additional funding and resources to address affordable housing,” said Morell. “Any new tax needs to be coupled with a plan and accountability measures. Those were my primary concerns when this came to the Council for final consideration before, and I feel my concerns were addressed.”