Capitol Dispatch

Editor’s note: Capitol Dispatch appears every Sunday during the legislative session.

In an effort to help some of the most vulnerable people affected by the statewide housing crunch, Southwest Washington state Rep. Ed Orcutt has introduced three bills to ease housing costs for mobile home park tenants.

His three bills would independently provide:

  • Rental assistance for low-income tenants in mobile home parks.
  • Additional property tax exemptions for senior citizens, veterans and people with disabilities who rent a spot in a mobile home park.
  • Partial property tax exemptions for mobile home park landlords who lease to tenants who qualify for property tax exemptions.

Orcutt, a Kalama Republican, said he unsuccessfully introduced all three bills last year. He said the legislation is in response to reports of 50 percent rent increases in the Woodland East Mobile Home Park. The Daily News reported last year that one family was purchasing mobile home parks in Southwest Washington and allegedly dramatically increasing rents, issuing unjustified eviction notices, imposing draconian regulations and intimidating the low-income senior residents.

“This is something that is very difficult for people, especially those on fixed incomes,” Orcutt told TDN Wednesday. “I’m concerned when you get a big (rent) jump, especially this sudden, it is very difficult for them to work into what is already a tight budget. I’m trying to find ways to help them immediately and also a little more long-term.”

People who qualify for property tax exemptions can typically apply them to both their home and the land it sits on. However, tenants in mobile home parks often own their home but rent the space it sits on from park landlords. Orcutt’s proposed tax exemptions would benefit veterans, senior citizens or people with disabilities. They would each expire in 2030.

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Orcutt is offering two possible exemptions, though only intends for one option to move forward.

The first option would give qualifying tenants an additional property tax break on the manufactured homes themselves. The House committee on Housing, Community Development and Veterans held a closed meeting about the proposal Wednesday.

The second option would give mobile park owners a tax exemption on rental lots that they would in turn be required to pass on to qualifying tenants in the form of lower lease payments. The bill has been referred to the Finance Committee.

Separately, Orcutt has also introduced a bill that allocates $2 million in rental assistance for mobile home tenants for the fiscal year ending in 2020. The money would come from the general fund through the state Department of Commerce.

To qualify for the rental assistance, tenants would apply with the Department of Commerce. Factors that would be considered include whether the applicant has a household income of less than 50 percent of the county’s median family income or if the tenant has been subject to rent increases that outpace inflation.

The rental assistance can be no more than $200 monthly or 50 percent of the rent — whichever one is lowest. The tenants would receive the assistance monthly for a year and would be required to reapply annually.

A substituted version of the bill passed out of the House Committee on Housing, Community Development and Veterans on Feb. 15. It was referred to the House Appropriations Committee.

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