New law lets Snohomish County pour millions into rental assistance

The measure signed by the governor Friday will give the county flexibility in how it spends a special affordable housing sales tax.

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OLYMPIA — A bill enabling Snohomish County to redirect as much as $5 million a year into rental assistance for people and families was signed into law Friday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Senate Bill 5604 provides local governments greater flexibility in the spending of tax collections targeted for mental health treatment programs and affordable housing.

It deals with two different sales and use taxes collected in some cities and counties around the state, including Snohomish County.

One is a one-tenth of a cent sales tax, proceeds from which must be spent on chemical dependency and mental health treatment services. Under the new law, those dollars can be used for repairs and modifications to existing buildings in which programs and services are offered. Snohomish County has collected this tax since 2008.

The other concerns collections from a one-tenth of a cent sales tax increase approved by the Snohomish County Council in December 2021. At the time, county officials estimated it could bring in $23 million a year for a range of housing options, from hotel shelters with “wraparound” services to newly constructed family units.

State rules allowed only counties with a population of 400,000 or less and cities with a population of 100,000 or less to use this source of revenue to provide rental assistance to tenants whose income is at or below 60 percent of the county median income.

The new law erases the population restriction and treats all local governments the same. That clears the way for Snohomish County to apportion some of its annual collections toward helping people stay in their housing.

Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, authored the measure that passed in the House and Senate without opposition. The new law will take effect July 22.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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