2020 Housing Solutions Conference promotes more urban solutions

“A community is defined by who lives there,” said Christine Gregoire, former Washington State Governor and current CEO of Challenge Seattle. “It can’t be only the wealthy; it has to be a diversity of incomes. It ought to include our teachers, firefighters, law enforcement officers, first responders, and the builders of our homes and communities.”

In front of a packed audience at the 2020 Housing Solutions Breakfast in Bellevue, Gregoire discussed the issue of insufficient housing for middle-income workers. Gregoire and her team at Challenge Seattle, a consortium of the region’s large private employers, recently released a report on this “invisible crisis” where ordinary workers are priced out from living near their jobs.

Gregoire noted that while there is no “silver bullet”, there are three key areas that can help foster improvement – community support, private sector leadership and investment, and smart public policy that won’t deter progress.

“Smart public policy is one of the most important things you can do if you want to be successful here,” said Gregoire. “We are all a part of the problem and we are all a part of the solution.”

“There must be a clear plan for building new housing that works for current residents while ensuring that the region is affordable for newcomers and future generations.”
– Puget Sound Regional Council

The Challenge Seattle report found that the average annual income needed to be able to afford median-priced housing is around $125,000* for single-income individuals. However, many middle-income workers, such as teachers, firefighters, and trade workers, can’t afford middle-market rentals and homes because they make below that average. If nothing is done, “the quality of life and economic edge of our communities will be threatened.”

“We don’t want to be like the City of San Jose, which is shutting down public schools because teachers can’t afford to live there,” said Gregoire.

Kat Sims, Executive Director of the Master Builders emphasized that solutions will have to be created in our urban areas.

“The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) estimates our population will grow by 1.8 million people by 2050,” said Sims. “That’s two and a half more Seattle’s or 13 Bellevue’s. We must elevate the conversation about our shared housing challenge.”

The PSRC noted that “there must be a clear plan for building new housing that works for current residents while ensuring that the region is affordable for newcomers and future generations.”

The Master Builders has identified four legislative priorities to help meet the challenge:

Accessory Dwelling Unit Bill Enable Accessory Dwelling Units as a housing option

ADUs are an environmentally friendly housing option, given their small size and the fact that residents tend to drive less. The changes sought would allow two ADUs per lot and eliminate owner occupancy, minimum lot size, among other requirements. This legislation would help increase housing choices in the very places where many families want to live and would benefit our communities by adding a much-needed affordable housing option.

Missing Middle Housing Re-legalize a variety of home choices that best fit every residents’ needs

Allowing more modest homes as an option would create more affordable home choices in neighborhoods close to jobs, transit, schools, parks, and other amenities. It would also help more families to remain in their desired communities.

House Bill (HB) 1923 Expansion Expand the list of options in HB 1923 to increase residential building capacity and housing affordability

New options MBAKS is proposing to build upon HB 1923 includes an extension of the time period during which ordinances and regulations developed in accordance with the new law would be exempt from appeals under SEPA and GMA.

Washington Uniform Common
Interest Ownership (WUCIOA) Act
Clarify Common Interest Community Act to help reduce the cost of housing

MBAKS is seeking to better focus the applicability of the new to law to its original intent, which was never meant to regulate smaller projects or create an added burden on new homeowners in these projects. Their goal is to streamline processes and save costs associated with compliance, in order to reduce these cost pressures on new housing.

*Average annual income needed to be able to afford median income housing in the King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap counties

Featured image photo credit: Alabastro Photography