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Pathways to Housing Security in Washington

Section 6 of House Bill 1277 (passed by the 2021 Washington Legislature) reiterated the challenges of homelessness and housing instability in the state and underscored the many changes and lessons learned associated with the COVID 19 pandemic. The legislation identified the need for a long-term strategy to improve services and outcomes for individuals and create a pathway to housing security in the state.

Section 6, HB1277 directs the William D. Ruckelshaus Center to:

  • clarify the current state of housing instability and homelessness in Washington as well as the available programs and services;
  • explore trends affecting and policies guiding the housing and services provided to individuals and families experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Washington State;
  • gather information about concerns, barriers, and opportunities from those who are affected by and involved in state policies and programs; and
  • facilitate discussions to identify principles, options, and recommendations that can inform a long-term strategy to improve services and outcomes for those experiencing and at risk of homelessness and create pathways to housing security in Washington State.

The Center has also enlisted Washington State University Extension’s Division of Governmental Studies and Services as a partner to contribute to fact-finding efforts called for in the legislation about factors that contribute to homelessness and housing instability and the programs and services currently available in Washington State.


The interviews conducted by the Center in 2021 and 2022 yielded key emerging themes that helped to identify the areas of concerns and opportunities around which further facilitated discussions would be most useful toward the ultimate objective of informing a long-term strategy to improve housing security in Washington State.

One major theme is a shift in how the causes of homelessness and housing instability are understood. There are multiple contributing factors to the high per capita rate of homelessness and to the circumstances and needs of those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The interviews and information gathered for this project indicate that there is a need to shift away from seeking to isolate a shortlist of causes that would drive strategy. Rather, the emerging recognition is that to be comprehensive, a strategy needs to take into account the compounding ways in which all of the known contributing factors interact to affect housing security at every level and stage.

Another major theme is the many interdependent pieces that make up the housing assistance landscape in Washington State. A wide range of services are relevant and needed, but are implemented in various settings, by practitioners from many disciplines, funded through multiple governmental and nongovernmental sources, and operating under the management or regulatory oversight of diverse agencies with varying policies, incentives, and constraints. As a result, efforts to address homelessness and housing instability are often siloed and fragmented.

Layering these two themes within the concept of housing security becomes even more complex. Housing needs are often discretely categorized, such as emergency shelter, supportive housing, transitional housing, affordable housing, the real estate market. However, most interviewees describe housing security as a continuum, and effective programs or policies in any of the categories ultimately depend on the state of the rest of the categories. Emergency shelter is temporary by design but serves that function well only if there is a connection to affordable permanent housing options, for which availability is affected by the housing market, which shifts alongside patterns of growth and the economy.

Taken together, interview insights begin to clarify what conditions would be needed to formulate and implement a long-term strategy to make sustained progress towards housing security in Washington State. These conditions include:

  • recognizing a holistic and complex understanding of the issues,
  • cultivating a shared foundational understanding,
  • adopting a systems lens that takes into account inherent interdependencies,
  • grappling with aspects of the response that sometimes seem to be in contradiction with each other, and
  • building and sustaining trusting relationships.

In the current and final year of the project, the Center will build on these emerging themes to focus on identifying principles, options, and recommendations that can inform a long-term strategy. Throughout 2023, we will be conducting iterative cycles of increasingly broad convenings that bring together a range of relevant roles and perspectives.

These facilitated discussions will be designed to identify principles, options, and recommendations for a long-term strategy, with clarity about the degree of convergence across various sources of information. We anticipate that the final report in December 2023 will include guiding principles; potential components for a long-term strategy, ways to guide investment decisions, ways to assess whether those investments are contributing to the desired results, and tangible next steps needed to develop such a strategy.


Reports have been provided to the Office of the Governor and appropriate committees of the Legislature on December 1, 2021 and December 1, 2022. A final report is due on December 1, 2023.


Year 1 – Pathways to Housing Security December 2021Report (pdf)

Year 2 – Pathways to Housing Security December 2022 Report

The project team will be available through June 2024 for follow-up conversations and/or presentations as appropriate.

Christina Sanders, Project Co-Lead

Phyllis Shulman, Project Co-Lead



For more information, contact:

Molly Stenovec, Project Manager