Hill Day 2019: All about affordability

Pictured: Seattle King County REALTORS® meet with Sen. Manka Dhingra.

Our state’s housing crisis has reached emergency levels. The lack of affordable housing opportunities is displacing families and hard-working folks and impacting our quality of life.

Despite recent market changes that are bringing inventory up and median home prices down, our region is by no means an affordable place to buy a home because there still aren’t enough homes available. The crisis in Seattle affects affordability in all corners of the state, impacting cities from Bremerton to Spokane.

“This problem is a contagion,” said James Young, Director of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research (WCRER) at the University of Washington. “It ripples out and affects the entire state.”

REALTORS® know the situation must be addressed. At 2019’s Washington REALTORS® Legislative Day on January 24, REALTORS® took to the Hill in Olympia to make housing affordability the top issue in the legislature this year. With them, they brought first-hand knowledge of the crisis and clear legislative priorities to address it.

Condo liability reform

Condos are an affordable ownership option for buyers who don’t want or need a detached single-family home. But, because of the almost certain chance of being sued over Washington state’s strict condo liability laws, developers over the last booming decade of growth have opted to build apartment buildings instead. As a result, the condos we do have are largely unaffordable to the average buyer.

“My wife and I talk about this all the time,” said Rep. Pat Sullivan during an afternoon meeting with REALTORS® from the 47th district. “At some point it’d be nice to retire in our community in a condo ourselves, and right now that would not be possible.”

REALTORS® support changes to condo liability laws to bring condos back as an affordable homeownership option in urban and suburban areas. Changes to these laws are achievable and will have a direct impact on the number of condos being built. This will provide new homeownership options to people the market has left behind.

Increase supply in urban growth areas (UGAs)

The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) predicts that by 2050, the Puget Sound region will add 1.8 million residents. The 25-year-old Growth Management Act (GMA) was supposed to provide a roadmap to deal with that growth. Instead, growth has occurred in ways no one predicted, and many cities that were supposed to absorb much of the growth have resisted it instead.

“We’re supposed to build more housing in those areas that we’ve designated. It’s not just a suggestion. The GMA is designed so to put more density in those areas. We’re working on putting the pressure on cities to tell developers that they have to build in those areas to serve all of us,” said Seattle King County REALTORS® Past President Sam DeBord during the Hill Day morning briefing.

These cities are urban growth areas (UGAs) that still have low-density zoning. Increasing zoning capacity in these areas is the only way to add density without building on even more land – we can go up, or we have to go out.

REALTORS® support legislation increasing minimum housing density in UGAs with low density and alack of affordable housing supply, especially near job centers and areas served by transit.

Washington state is still a great place to live, but we can make our region more affordable and restore the quality of life we’ve lost. Read more about the legislative priorities that REALTORS® are fighting for this year to make real changes in our state.

Visit UnlocktheDoorWA.com to see how REALTORS®, nonprofits, builders and other advocates are working with elected officials to solve the housing crisis.