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SEATTLE TIMES EDITORIAL: People with disabilities are part of the WA housing crisis, too

Updated: 7 days ago

By Jamila Taylor

Special to The Seattle Times

We live in a wonderful, prosperous state. However, we should remember that not everyone enjoys the same access to what our communities have to offer. Whether it is accessing health care, picking up groceries, finding a home or just having help getting dressed in the morning, I’m reminded of how our state is falling short in providing critical services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities living in their own homes.

Supported Living is a long-term service model that provides care to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and supports them in their communities. If we are to put it on a sustainable path, we must first increase Medicaid’s investment in this model by at least 10%. This critical service is more than 99% reliant on Medicaid for its funding and our state’s commitment has been inconsistent, at best.

I am also hopeful that we can adopt a new tax of 1% on the value of the selling price of properties over $3.025 million to support a dedicated funding source for more Supported Living housing. This proposal was already heard by my colleagues in the House and Senate (HB 2276, SB 6191) and it should be a part of our final budget. As a community, it makes sense to adopt a modest tax on the sale of high-value properties to make housing available for those currently without.

There is no shortage of worthy services and community programs across our state. There are significant shortfalls in funding transportation and our public schools continue to require additional support. In state government, we must do more than one thing at once. By investing in Supported Living, we will be working to reduce staff turnover among those providing care — currently, this workforce averages more than 50% turnover annually as wages reliant on Medicaid fall behind entry-level pay in fast food restaurants. Just as the waitlist of individuals awaiting placement statewide has now grown to 450, Supported Living is also seeing an increase in clients with complex needs requiring additional resources to ensure they receive consistent, compassionate care.

If you do not have a loved one who relies on this care model, Supported Living can be an invisible service. The alternatives to Supported Living are hospital settings or aging state-run institutions, a model that is more than twice as expensive as Supported Living. Neither is a long-term solution for a loved one, whether they are in crisis or not.

By contrast, Supported Living in Washington is a cost-effective model that serves about 4,600 people and employs 12,000 direct support professionals — a typical home has three clients, usually relying on 10 direct support professionals for care. If we fail to follow research and recommendations for more support in a study we commissioned, we are consigning this vulnerable population to remain in institutions, hospitals or with their aging parents. All those alternatives are as expensive as they are inadequate for long-term care.

One of the greatest priorities of the Legislature is the work to mitigate the impacts of the housing affordability crisis. While we have taken some steps over the past year, the crisis remains acute and the barriers to housing are unacceptably high. This is just as true for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Washington as it is for everyone else. A recent grant program in the Housing Trust Fund received twice as many applications for more housing in Supported Living as expected, confirming an unmet need for housing continues.

It is an honor to serve our state. I hear every day from constituents about the crises affecting our communities and the opportunities to build a better place where we can all thrive. By making a more consistent investment to support those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we are also making a more consistent commitment to the type of community that we all know is possible.

Jamila Taylor is a Democrat who has represented the 30th Legislative District since 2021.

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