Cities, towns and counties will soon have more input on where groups of released inmates can live when the state is paying their rent.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed a measure into law Thursday that would prevent two or more ex-inmates who are using state-issued rental vouchers from sharing an apartment, unless they are renting housing that is on an approved list.
The state Department of Corrections (DOC) will be required to notify local jurisdictions when a property within their boundaries is added to the approved rental-voucher housing list, and allow local officials to submit a statement discussing whether the neighborhood is appropriate for inmate housing. Local officials also can request that a housing provider be removed from the list.
The DOC rental voucher program allows the state to temporarily pay $500 a month for offenders to rent housing out in the community, providing that the offenders have met all the conditions for early release. The DOC program, which the Legislature approved in 2007, can pay eligible inmates’ rent for three months.
State Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said that Senate Bill 5105 will help local communities ensure that inmate housing is located in appropriate neighborhoods, such as those close to job centers and mass transit.
“I think the final product is really good for Puyallup, really good for Pierce County and the whole state of Washington,” said Dammeier, who sponsored the legislation. “It gives communities opportunities to be involved in the process.”
Dammeier’s proposal was partly inspired by a situation in Puyallup last summer. Hundreds of residents complained to Puyallup City Council members about a proposed group home that they worried could hold multiple recently released sex offenders. Citizens complained that offender housing didn’t belong in residential neighborhoods close to schools and daycares.
Dammeier’s bill will help ensure that cities have a say in where offender housing is located, said Julie Door, a Puyallup citizen who has been a vocal supporter of the legislation.
“We have a seat at the table now,” Door said. “Of course we need to accept the offender housing, but at least we can ensure it’s compatible and it’s in the proper location.”
Puyallup Mayor Rick Hansen said the bill “is a great foundation document.”
Puyallup officials passed an emergency measure in August 2012 temporarily preventing group homes with two or more felons from cropping up in the city’s residential neighborhoods.
Hansen said that city officials will have to review their ordinance in the coming weeks and decide how they want to change it.
“There were some things we put in our ordinance that were a little different,” Hansen said Thursday. “We have to review those again and see if we’re going to say more than what was said in this bill.”
The state’s new law will go into effect July 28.
State Rep. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, said that he thinks the state needs to reconsider the offender rental voucher program and whether it should be part of state policy. Still, Zeiger said Dammeier’s bill is “a good start.”
“It goes in the right direction, but I think more needs to be done in the future to make sure that local governments have options when it comes to keeping neighborhoods safe,” Zeiger said.