On Thursday morning in a ballroom at the Meydenbaur Convention Center in Downtown Bellevue, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS) unveiled their legislative priority list for the 2020 legislative session. 2020 is an even year, which means that legislators will only have 60 days to pass anything when session starts in January.
MBAKS is the trade group for many smaller builders and developers, two groups that often raise the hackles of many people from across the political spectrum in our growing region. But in a region in need of more and cheaper housing, these are also the people who will be building much of it, particularly the lower cost wooden lowrise buildings. They also employ thousands of blue collar workers in the building trades, the hardworking folks out in the rain everyday constructing new housing. According to their mission statement, they “take a leading role in all facets of homebuilding, addressing the many concerns and issues affecting our region’s ever-evolving housing industry.”
The Affordability Issue
Before getting to the priorities, Christine Gregoire, former Governor and current CEO of Challenge Seattle, spoke about the problem of housing affordability and the costs it imposes for area residents, employers, and our environment. Speaking on how so many of middle- and low-income residents of our region are being pushed out, she said “What happens to a community when it loses its middle income residents? It loses its soul.”
Beyond the toll this takes on individuals, it is also affecting employers ability, particularly those that employ middle- or lower-income folks, Gregoire said, and inhibits their ability to recruit and retain employees, which threatens our region’s economy. And, reminding people that she was head of our state’s Department of Ecology, she spoke of the toll our housing crisis is taking on our environment.
“We cannot be proud of the fact that we are the number one mega-commuting region where people drive more than an hour and half one way,” Gregoire said. “People are commuting in from Ellensburg and Wenatchee.” Those longer commutes lead to higher auto emissions.
The Legislative Priorities
Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)
Last session, a bill legalizing accessory dwelling units, attached or detached, throughout single-family zones across the state came very close to passing but ultimately failed. As discussed during the debate in Seattle, allowing more ADUs could open up more opportunities for lower cost housing in our single family neighborhoods. This session MBAKS will try again to pass comprehensive legislation that would allow two accessory dwelling units per lot and eliminate off-street parking, owner occupancy, and minimum lot size requirements.
Missing Middle Housing
Over time, we have eliminated housing options in our single-family zones and housing costs are out of control, with the majority of residential land in the typical city allowing only single-family houses. MBAKS hopes that a missing middle bill will pass allowing for duplexes in single-family zones and allowing cities to choose to go farther and legalize other options such as triplexes and fourplexes.
House Bill 1923 Expansion
Last session, the legislature passed House Bill 1923, which permitted local governments to take certain specified actions to allow for more housing and if they did so they would be eligible for planning grants and be exempt from some State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) appeals. The bill has time limits for taking the actions. MBAKS is asking that the law be strengthened and that the time limit for adopting the specified policies be extended.
Condo Reform Law Reform
While reform was passed last year, the Washington Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act (WUCIOA), MBAKS is seeking several technical fixes primarily to reduce the burden on smaller communities by raising the threshold at which the provisions of WUCIOA kick in.
Building a Coalition for Housing
The event panel’s highlight was a discussion with state legislators, including Rep. Mia Gregerson (D-LD 33), Sen. Marko Liias (D-LD 21), Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-LD 48), and Rep. Nicole Macri (D-LD 43) moderated by Margaret Morales from Sightline. While all the legislators seemed on board with the MBAKS agenda, they also had their own ideas that may or may not align with the MBAKS. Sen. Kuderer identified finding a dedicated revenue source for the housing trust fund and according to Rep. Macri, “anti-diplacement efforts are equally important as building supply.”
Perhaps the biggest takeaway was from Sen. Liias who stressed the need to build the big vision for housing in our state. Comparing it to recent transportation work he said took year, he explained that a common housing vision will take years as well in his view. But when asked what one thing he would like to get done this year, he said “laying the ground work to build that grand vision for housing at the statewide level and starting that process in a meaningful way this year.”
When I look at the MBAKS priorities such as legalizing housing options–such as duplexes in single family zones and see how they overlap with progressive housing advocates positions–or look at the coalition that worked to pass ADU reform and Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation in Seattle I can see a coalition for housing reform in our state happening. Especially when we connect anti-displacement and tenant protection rules together with policies to build more housing supply. As Rep. Macri said in one of her answers, “by working to have a truly broad vision we will be able to really lead addressing the affordable housing challenges that regions around the country are seeing.”