Sen. Liz Lovelett (D- Anacortes) has pre-filed a bill which would provide local governments the option to fund affordable housing and social service programs through a special excise tax on internet-based, short-term vacation rentals.

The bill allows government bodies of towns, cities, or counties to opt in with a simple majority vote of their council. Local jurisdictions are granted authority to set the percentage of the tax should they choose to adopt it, with a cap of up to 10% applied to bookings made on vacation rental websites.

Washington state has seen a significant increase in people experiencing homelessness and a housing affordability crisis in recent years, even prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 2019, the state Department of Commerce reported Washington as having the fifth-highest prevalence of homelessness in the nation along with rising rent prices and stagnant wages.

“We know that local and county jurisdictions are struggling to provide housing options in their communities. This is a step to ensure that resources are available to build and maintain housing across the state,” said Lovelett. “Our current crisis underscores the importance of housing and its relation to public health. It’s clear now more than ever that our communities need help.”

Preliminary estimates show that, if adopted by all local jurisdictions, the measure could bring in tens of millions of dollars to fund affordable housing options as soon as 2022.

The 2021 Legislative session is scheduled to begin on Jan. 11 and will be held virtually to ensure staff and visitor safety amidst the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.