Bill would require community input before halfway house could open

SEATTLE -- Some residents in cities such as Marysville and Puyallup have been outraged by halfway houses popping up in their neighborhoods. The controversy is now pushing state lawmakers to step in.

The main objective of Senate Bill 5105 is to get community reaction before any halfway house can open up in any neighborhood.

After 20 years of living in her dream home in Marysville, Michelle Morck said, suddenly the home next to hers became a halfway house packed with sex offenders.

“The only way to and from this property was through our front property,” said Morck.

Fearing for her family's safety, Morck moved last year and is now facing foreclosure as she said she is unable to sell her vacant home.

“It's really devastated us in many, many ways,” said Morck.

About  1,000 inmates every year since 2009 have been released by the Department of Corrections with taxpayer dollars in the form of rental vouchers.

Inmates released on good behavior receive $500 a month for up to three months after being released from prison. But as it stands, the state has no clear rules on where and how halfway houses are operated.

“I think it's insane that the local government, local enforcement, local housing authorities don’t have the final say in these types of cases,” said Rob Davidson, who is a registered sex offender.

Davidson received DOC vouchers when he was released from prison this year. He says many halfway houses are out of control.

“As a money maker, people are applying for these vouchers, purchasing foreclosed homes, large foreclosed homes; they're just making money off of it. They don’t care what is happening with the offenders,” said Julie Door of the activist group Shaw ComeTogether.

Door’s group is lobbying state lawmakers to pass the bill that would require strict rules on halfway houses.  The measure would create state records of all halfway houses, give local counties and law enforcement more oversight and require community reaction before any halfway house can open.

“They (would) have to come on a list; they (would) have to coordinate the site with the local community who would perform a community impact statement,” said state Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, who is sponsoring the bill.

On Tuesday, various city leaders and the public, including Morck,  toured Unity House, a halfway house in Seattle, that many say is a good example.

The owner of the halfway house, Jim Tharpe, said the Seattle neighborhood supports his home because of his efforts to inform the community. Morck said if Unity House was next door to her house, she wouldn’t move.

“A home such as this, versus where we were at, is night and day,” said Morck.

Senate bill 5105 passed the Senate with significant support. It is now in the House and lawmakers say it has a good chance of becoming law.