These Housing Bills Need a Boost as Cutoff Looms

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U District used to host lots of low-rent apartments, but rents have steadily climbed in the last decade. (Credit: Doug Trumm)

State senators and representatives are scrambling to get their bills out of committee with a “Do Pass” recommendation before the cutoff on Monday, February 22nd. An exception allows revenue-generating bills a longer lease on life if they are declared “necessary to implement the budget,” so don’t worry about “tax the rich” or carbon fee bills dying just yet. Some exciting bills will need a boost to survive past this year’s cutoff.

The bill links below will take you to the webpage for each piece of legislation where you can weigh in as “PRO” to help pressure legislators to back the bills. Emails, calls, and public testimony during hearings is also a great tool to push bills over the top.

Suite of tenant rights bills

The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA) is focusing their advocating on a suite of four bills aiming to help rent-burdened tenants cope with the pandemic and recession. While none of the bills the state legislature is weighing would go so far as to cancel rent, some measures would provide considerable relief and help correct the power imbalance between tenants and landlords. Our state law is currently tilted pretty heavily toward landlords.

  • HB 1236: Authored by Rep. Nicole Macri, HB 1236 requires landlords demonstrate a legitimate business reason to make tenants move. Rep. Macri has brought a just cause eviction bill in the past, but the pandemic may finally convince her colleagues to go along. The bill would seek to close a major loophole in the local just cause laws that cities like Seattle and Tacoma passed. (See below for more.)
  • HB 1277: Authored by Rep. Timm Ormsby, HB 1277 creates a permanent state funded rental assistance and housing stability program with a new $100 document recording fee on real estate-related transactions. The fee could raise $100 million annually according to the City of Seattle government relations team. The bill would help replenish the rental assistance pot since the state has spent through the initial $100 million in federal assistance via the Eviction Rent Assistance Program (ERAP) program. HB 1277 has passed out of its policy committee, but must now pass out of the Appropriations Committee.
  • SB 5160: Authored by Sen. Patty Kuderer, SB 5160 would boost tenant rights by requiring our eviction process to include the right to a payment plan for renters, the right to legal counsel, and solutions to prevent the harmful effects of debt. Sadly, many low-income tenants never get to assert their rights because they lack access to legal counsel. (Update: it passed out of Ways and Means and will survive cutoff.)
  • SB 5139: Authored by Sen. Mona Das, SB 5139 would limit rent increases to reasonable amounts within a year of the eviction moratorium expiring. Effectively this is temporary rent stabilization to decrease displacement pressure on tenants and block loopholes in other protections as the eviction moratorium is relaxed or rescinded. It has been languishing in Local Government Committee through four executive sessions and may no longer be alive due to cutoff protocols, but expressing support could be influential in keeping the policy idea going during the session.

Social housing for teachers

Using public land for social housing got a new twist this session with SB 5043, which allows school districts to provide housing for their employees, helping with land and financing. This addresses an issue many Washington districts are having in attracted teachers and other staff due to sky-high housing costs. Authored by Sen. Jesse Salomon, the bill has passed the Senate Education Committee and is now in Ways and Means.

Rapid transit funding for Seattle

We’ve covered HB 1304, which would be a boost to light rail expansion goals in Seattle, and encouraged our readers to contact their legislators to support it. Authored by Rep. David Hackney and backed by Seattle Subway, the bill would modify the City Transportation Authority to fund light rail instead of monorail and allow Seattle to raise more than $500 million annually for rapid transit.

With Sound Transit facing a major budget crunch for Ballard Link, West Seattle Link, and second Downtown Seattle tunnel, the funding measure could be a crucial stopgap. Importantly, it would jumpstart efforts to get Sound Transit to plan those projects for future expansion, letting expansions flow seamlessly into one another rather than requiring expensive retrofits.

The bill has passed Local Government Committee, but is now in the Rules Committee and needs to take another step forward to avoid withering there. For now, it appears safe, as Rep. Hackney celebrated.

Growth Management Act bills

Futurewise’s Washington Can’t Wait package will also sink or swim this weekend. Passing these bills is urgent because major updates to Comprehensive Plans that cities like Seattle are doing in 2024 is set to soon begin. With these reforms the Growth Management Act (GMA), that planning won’t further climate action, equity, and housing affordability like it should.

  • HB 1099: The climate element of GMA reform is authored by Rep. Davina Duerr. Climate action isn’t a stated objective of the GMA, but it should be. This bill sets to make the GMA an asset for climate action rather than a hindrance. It has passed the House Committee on Environment and Energy and is now sitting in the Appropriations Committee.
  • HB 1220: The affordable housing element is intended to make homeless shelters and affordable housing easier to site and build. Currently many jurisdictions (most recently Mercer Island) have tried to ban homeless shelters and permanent supportive housing in their communities. Rep. Strom Peterson is the lead sponsor. It has passed Local Government and is in Appropriations Committee.
  • HB 1157: Authored by Rep. Jessica Bateman, HB 1157 would add housing affordability and density as a more explicit goal of the GMA and includes tax incentives for housing density. The bill passed Local Government after some amendments and had its first executive session in Finance Committee this morning.

Additionally, Futurewise put out an urgent action time to back SB 5042 which is tantalizing close to passage, but also in danger of dying in the Senate Rules Committee, a step before moving to the floor for a possible vote.

“For the last 12 years, Futurewise has worked to close a crucial loophole in the GMA known as the ‘vesting loophole’. You read that right–this bill was first introduced in 2008,” Futurewise Lead Organizer Jamie Ptacek wrote in the email. “This is the closest we have ever gotten to passing this bill, but right now it is in danger of dying on the Senate floor.

The vesting loophole allows local jurisdictions to let projects that violate the GMA to go forward so long as they vested before the jurisdiction loses a court appeal on their GMA-bending plans. The result is more farms, forests, and wilderness turned over to sprawl.

The case for a statewide just cause eviction ordinance

Rep. Macri explained HB 1236 as a basic fairness measure for landlords to give tenants a legitimate business reason to end a tenancy. Reasons laid out in the bill include dangerous unsafe tenant behavior, non-payment of rent, or the landlord or a family member moving into the unit or needing to sell the property.

“The current law allows most landlords (except for in smaller jurisdictions in King County) to end tenancies with a 20-day no cause notice,” Rep. Macri said. “Because the eviction moratorium has been in place and because it includes a freeze on rents, more and more tenants are telling me their tenancies have rolled into month to month. Landlords don’t want to lock people into a long-term lease during a rent freeze. They’ve been waiting for the eviction moratorium to be lifted… It gives the landlords more flexibility to increase rents. More people are at risk of getting a 20-day notice.”

Even in cities like Seattle that already enacted a just cause ordinace, HB 1236 could be a significant upgrade, as Rep. Macri explained.

“The thing that has continually held us up on this is the aspect of the bill that seeks to close what I consider a big loophole in the Seattle just cause eviction ordinance,” she said. “Due to a state court of appeals ruling in the year 2000, the Seattle just cause ordinance does not protect tenants at the end of a fixed-term lease… As far as I know, that makes Seattle unique among cities and states that have good cause ordinances, meaning that Seattle has one of the weakest ordinances in the country.”

The landlord lobby stands in the way of progress on tenant rights and housing justice, with some Democratic state legislators loath to cross them. They like the just cause loophole just the way it is.

Rep. Macri said, “The landlord lobby has been very strong in opposing the provision in the bill that would require landlords to provide a legitimate business reason to end a tenancy at the end of a fixed term.”

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Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.

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