REALTORS® and cities: Working together to build stronger communities

“REALTORS® need to stand up and tell their stories.” That was the message from Legislator Amy Walen when asked how REALTORS® could support positive actions on housing.

Walen, former mayor of Kirkland, made the remarks at the 25th annual Housing Issues Briefing, a yearly event hosted by Seattle King County REALTORS® to bring real estate voices together with candidates running for local and state office to discuss solutions to housing issues across King County.

“Our goal today is to give you tools to address clearly what is the most pressing public policy issue of our time – housing,” said SKCR President Rich Bergdahl in his address to the crowd of nearly 100 city and county council candidates running for office in 2019.

Ada M. Healey, chief real estate officer at Vulcan and keynote speaker, said, “There is not a silver bullet or one-size solution that’s going to solve all our housing problems.” She noted various tools available from incentives for density, zoning and ADU reform, the Mandatory Housing Affordability program and the Multifamily Tax Exemption program. “There are ways we can add more homes of all shapes and sizes and make our neighborhoods more equitable.”

Margaret Morales, a researcher and policy analyst for Sightline Institute, shared ways that REALTORS®, candidates and other housing advocates can talk about growth in a constructive way at a time when housing and affordability issues have become divisive topics for current residents.

“The narrative I hear most often is the narrative of scarcity – the idea that I need to protect what I have so I can stay here,” said Morales. Shifting the language we use to talk about growth from housing types to people is a strategy Sightline has found helpful in having conversations with anti-growth advocates.

Rob Johnson, former Seattle City Council member, agrees that changing the narrative to be about people helps put affordability issues into perspective for neighborhoods that are afraid of growth. “To those who say they’re concerned about growth in their neighborhoods, we need to tell them that stopping growth means that their kids, their grandkids, their families won’t be able to afford to live in the neighborhoods they grew up in.”

Walen, who now serves the 48th District in the state Legislature, talked about her work at the state level on HB 1923, a revised version of which was signed by Governor Inslee in May. The bill encourages growth for cities to increase residential density, a topic that Walen noted got her into hot water with some of her constituents. “The fact is that housing is infrastructure, and it needs to be mandated for cities to take their share of growth,” said Walen.

Morales agreed, adding, “Even when a city wants to increase housing, it’s possible for a small group of residents to gum up progress, as we saw with the ADU example in Seattle. So I think we need the state to put some bumpers in the bowling lane to give cities parameters, and then within those parameters cities can figure out what works best for them.”

Healey and the panelists were energized and hopeful in talking about these issues and our ability to solve them. We have the tools – we just need to work together to use them.

“We in Seattle are fortunate to have the job growth and prosperity that is the envy of the rest of the world. We need to ensure that our region welcomes business and is able to execute strategies to alleviate our housing affordability crisis,” said Healey. “It’s up to us to make the Puget Sound region inclusive.”

Thank you to Ada M. Healey, our panelists Rob Johnson, Amy Walen and Margaret Morales, and to all of the candidates and REALTORS® who attended the 25th annual Housing Issues Briefing.

Event Details

Keynote Address and Panel Moderator: Ada M. Healey, Chief Real Estate Officer, Vulcan


Rob Johnson, former Seattle City Councilmember
Amy Walen, State Representative (48th District) and former Kirkland Mayor
Margaret Morales, Researcher and Policy Analyst, Sightline Institute

Event Materials:

2019 HIB Agenda

Talking Housing Affordability: Getting from “Me” to “We” by Sightline Institute

Exclusionary zoning video by Sightline Institute

Regional Affordable Housing Task Force King County Report

The White House Housing Development Toolkit

Rob Johnson presentation

Ada M. Healey presentation, provided by Vulcan