Could GMA reform help housing?

Senator Guy Palumbo, D-1st District, has seen his district grow amidst our region’s job boom.

In fact, the district – which straddles the King and Snohomish county line and includes Bothell and part of Kirkland – has absorbed much more growth over the last decade than anyone expected or planned for. Much of that growth has been in unincorporated communities without adequate infrastructure to support it.

Therein lies the problem with the Washington state’s Growth Management Act (GMA). Although the GMA describes where growth should occur, like around transit and job centers, it has failed to account for real growth patterns like those seen in unincorporated areas.

“We put things in the document for 10, 20 years down the road, but then the reality on the ground doesn’t play out,” said Senator Palumbo Wednesday at the Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties Housing Solutions Breakfast. “Our planning process is not nimble.”

“Cities under the Growth Management Act are supposed to be absorbing more density, and they’re not doing that essentially because of NIMBY-ism,” Senator Palumbo said at the Seattle King County REALTORS® Housing Issues Briefing last June. “People know growth is necessary, they just don’t want it happening in their neighborhood.”

On Wednesday, Senator Palumbo discussed the GMA further. “I’m a GMA supporter, but the GMA is turning 28 years old this year. It is not perfect, it wasn’t meant to be perfect,” he told the crowd. “In my opinion, it’s breaking right now for a whole lot of reasons, and one of those reasons is density.”

Despite these problems, Senator Palumbo is optimistic about changes for housing in the upcoming legislative session.

In 2017, Senator Palumbo sponsored Senate Bill 6077 that would have required minimum densities of 6-units per acre within cities governed by the Growth Management Act (GMA). Although the bill did not pass, its intent is to bolster more housing near job centers.

Senator Palumbo plans to push the bill again next year. “We are at a breaking point. Cities, especially around transit centers, have to take more density,” he said.

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