Housing Summit addresses critical link between the Puget Sound’s infrastructure and housing supply

Early Tuesday morning, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties hosted a Housing Summit at the Meydenbauer Center in downtown Bellevue to discuss how the rapid growth in the Puget Sound region affects the issues of transportation and housing. With over 250,000 jobs added across the four-county region over the past five years and traffic delay increasing over 50%, the connection between transportation and housing has never been more critical.

Bellevue Deputy Mayor Kevin Wallace opened the summit with an overview of the infrastructure solutions currently underway and proposed plans for the future to improve connectivity throughout the region. The Legislature’s passage of the transportation package this year is projected to generate $16 billion over 16 years that will help alleviate congestion and maintain the state’s highway system in the years to come. Wallace highlighted more immediate solutions such as the upcoming light rail system, stating the light rail project is “[A] great, financially feasible, asset to the region. It’s a story of collaboration and resolving differences to come together to get something done.”

“Infrastructure investments are key to increasing housing supply and affordability to ensure that housing opportunities exist for our growing region,” said Patti Hill, our 2015 President-Elect, who attended the summit to represent REALTORS®. “We need a variety of housing types for our diverse market and the ability to get from home to work quickly and safely.”

Dow Constantine, King County Executive, expanded on solutions for transportation needs in the region by touching on King County’s reform agenda. “King County is changing the way it does business by engaging employees to better serve the public… fix inefficiency, fix uncertainty, fix frustration.” These reforms include faster, improved online services for builders and buyers such as online permit applications and payment systems, fixed fees, online scheduling and more. “You should be building homes, not processing paperwork and spinning your wheels,” said Constantine.

Josh Brown, Puget Sound Regional Council Executive (PSRC), said that transportation is a top concern for people in the Puget Sound region. When consumers decide to buy a home, their top concerns are affordability and commute time. Affordable homes are not close to where people work which is why transportation has worsened in our region. Transportation delay has increased 23% in the last year alone. Brown stated that there were over 52,000 new jobs added in Seattle over the past year. Of those 52,000 workers, around 17,000 are commuting alone with 29,000 relying on public transit, and the remaining 6,000 walking/biking or taking alternative modes of transportation. Brown stated that “[PSRC’s] general strategy to solve this issue is to better connect our cities/areas in order to protect what it is that is so special about our region.”

All of the speakers at the summit agreed that people want to live close to where they work. “Sitting in traffic costs us money…commute times are the 7th worst in the nation,” said Matthew Gardner, Windermere Chief Economist. “Land supply and infrastructure solutions have to go hand in hand. We are running out of land and that will continue to force prices up,” he continued. Gardner then went on to suggest that King County “change the way [it] assesses supply, continue to grow [its] mass transit system, and reevaluate zoning.”

“Creating housing supply near job centers has been a consistent objective of REALTORS® and we will continue our advocacy efforts to ensure that happens,” stated Hill. Job growth has no end in sight with over 800,000 people expected to move to this region by 2040. The decisions made now to coordinate efforts between transportation and housing are imperative in preserving our quality of life and ensuring our region not only grows, but thrives.