WALeg Wednesday Banner, April 5 2023. Representative Julia Reed drops text of HB 1517, House companion to the TOD bill, into the legislative submissions Hopper.(Image Washington Dems)

The legislative clock ticks closer to its late April conclusion this WALeg Wednesday.

The striker amendments that were stalking many of the housing bills in the Washington Legislature have caught up to their targets. While the amendments themselves have a lot of issues, it is notable that multiple, significant pieces of housing legislation have moved forward in Olympia this year. They are accompanied by progress on a climate action bill that’s been several years in the making.

The next set of deadlines are looming. Bills must make it out of their committees in the second chamber before next Wednesday, April 12. Those remaining without committee votes next week will be kaput for the year. At the moment, most of the bills we have been following are out of the committees, with the exception of the HB 1245 Lot Splitting bill.

Important Bills at a Glance

  • HB 1110 – Missing Middle Housing – Increasing middle housing in areas traditionally dedicated to single-family detached housing.
    • Next Move – Passed Housing (March 22) and Ways and Means (April 3). Now moved to Rules to be scheduled for a second reading and floor vote.
    • Notes – More coverage below about the striker amendments required to progress in the Senate.
    • More Coverage – Read about the earlier amendments it took to get out of committee and PSRC’s analysis of the number of potential homes original versions bill would create.
  • HB 1181 – GMA Climate Change provisions – Incorporating climate change provisions in municipal and county comprehensive planning.
    • Next Move – Passed Local Government (March 16) and Ways and Means (April 3) (after some moments of confusion). Now move to Rules to be scheduled for a second reading and floor vote.
    • More Coverage – Please see December’s Meetup with Futurewise and Futurewise’s campaign page.
  • SB 5466 – Promoting Transit Oriented Development – Permitting increased density in specified areas around high frequency transit.
    • Next Move – Passed Housing (March 28) and Capital Budget (March 31) with amendments by Agriculture and Natural Resources.
    • Notes – More coverage below about the striker amendments required to progress in the House.
    • More Coverage – The Urbanist did a big breakdown of the bill from January and also has done a coverage of transit-oriented development (TOD) in the past. Sightline Institute also has some good info on earlier versions of this TOD bill.
  • HB 1245 – Lot Splitting – Requiring jurisdictions to allow recorded properties to be divided for additional buildable lots.
    • Next Move – Executive session of the Senate Committee on Local Government, Land Use and Tribal Affairs on March 28 took no action on the bill.
    • More Coverage – See the March 1 WALeg Weekly Focus for more information about the bill. 
    • Notes – Floor amendment by Rep. Andrew Barkis (R – LD2 Yelm, Eatonville), who is doing some interesting housing work this year, increased resulting lots to minimum 2,000 square feet and effective date to six months after a city’s comprehensive plan update.
  • HB 1337 – Easing Barriers for ADUs – Reduces regulatory and construction barriers for the construction of accessory dwelling units.
    • Next Move – Passed Local Government on March 28. The Senate’s Rules Committee has forwarded the bill for a second reading.
    • More Coverage – See the March 1 WALeg Weekly Focus for more information about the bill.
    • Notes – A newly proposed striker amendment will remove provisions limiting parking, overall density calculations, and technical changes. An earlier striker amendment inserted language about Urban Growth Area compliance and coordination by the Department of Commerce.
  • SB 5200 – The Capital Budget
    • Companion Bill – HB 1147 (Now completely lapped by the Senate bill)
    • Next Move – The capital budget passed the Senate 44 to 0 on March 24. The bill moved to the house, where it was read, skipped all the committees, and placed on the calendar for second reading (March 27).
    • More Coverage – The extensive list of proposals in the Capital Budget can be looked at in the Proposed Substitute Senate Bill (PSSB) 5200. We covered the budget process in the Week 11 WALeg Roundup and more in depth numbers in the Week 12 WALeg Roundup.
  • SB 5187 – The Operating Budget
    • Companion Bill – HB 1140 (Now completely lapped by the Senate bill)
    • Next Move – The operating budget passed the Senate 40 to 9 on March 29 before passing the House 57 to 40 on April 3. The bill now heads to conference to pound out any differences between the House and Senate versions. Should that pass, it will go to the Governor’s desk for signature.
    • More Coverage – We covered the budget process in the Week 11 WALeg Roundup and more in depth numbers in the Week 12 WALeg Roundup.

Weekly Focus: Slim, Difficult Housing Bills Continue Progress

In a series of votes this week, the three major pieces of legislation on housing and climate that we’ve been following made significant progress towards passage. We’ll start with the easy one, HB 1181, which adds climate provisions to comprehensive plans, has left the Senate’s budgeting committee (Ways and Means) and now heads to the chamber floor for a vote.

The two housing bills, however, became significantly more complex.

Starting with transit oriented development, SB 5466 passed the Capital Budget committee including a striker amendment. This mass rewrite of the bill includes several difficult losses. The overall concept of SB 5466 remains to increase density — measured by increased floor-area ratio — in specific areas around transit stations. The area of effect for increased density remains one-half mile around high capacity transportation like light rail, but it is reduced to a quarter mile around bus rapid transit and then nothing around frequent bus service or any other bus route. Density bonuses for affordable or permanent supportive housing are removed. Provisions about reducing parking has been maintained, but each jurisdiction is allowed to work with the Department of Commerce to flex that. Except the City of SeaTac, which got a blanket exception as being adjacent to an airport with at least 9 million annual enplanements.

Unfortunately, a true “poison pill” provision may have also been included. For those areas not already permitting transit-oriented development (TOD) density levels, the bill now requires at least 20% of all residential units constructed within a station area to be affordable at or below 60% of area median income. Essentially, those regions of suburbs that are served by fast, regular transit will only see increased density if the development can dedicate a fifth of its units to affordable housing. The affordability requirement, while laudable, may prove to be a debilitatingly expensive requirement on projects that would be constructed on some of the most expensive land in the country.

Leading many of the negotiations in the House was Representative Julia Reed (D – Ballard) who had to fend off a lot of questions about why the chamber was making such major amendments after the Senate passed a relatively unamended bill. In comments to The Seattle Times, Reed cited displacement of at-risk communities and their proximity to transit corridors as major concerns.

The other housing bill, HB 1110, promised significant increases to missing middle housing by allowing multiple units on lots. Unlike the TOD bill, HB 1110 is primarily tied to the size of the jurisdiction, then bonuses for proximity to a transit stop. The bill left the house permitting two units per lot in all cities between 25,000 and 75,000 people, shifting up to four units near transit and amenities. Jurisdictions over 75,000 and all cities within the contiguous growth management area (GMA) of a city over 275,000 people (namely, Seattle) needed to allow four units per lot or six units near transit and amenities.

The most recent striker bill in the house reduces many of these thresholds by creating three tiers of cities. First, all cities between 25,000 and 75,000 people get two units per lot, or four units near transit. There is no differentiation whether these cities are in or out of a contiguous GMA. In cities over 75,000, they still get four and six units, based on transit. Finally, those cities under 25,000 in a contiguous GMA get two units per lot. Looking at you, Medina.

The bill’s original sponsor, Representative Jessica Bateman took to Twitter to applaud HB 1110’s passage from Ways and Means, noting that even with its significant changes, “the policy is still an improvement & will help create more #Homew4WA.” A number of commenters, including Sightline’s Dan Bertolet, observed that getting such bills this far would have been unthinkable a year ago.

Now, here is the hard analysis. It sucks that these are much smaller, more limited bills than they started out. It’s especially difficult, considering they were fairly limited and constrained to begin with. None of the bills proposed forcing the jurisdictions to take their fair share of housing (like New Jersey does) or allowing developers to break zoning in segregationist, intransigent jurisdictions (like California may). The bills were compromises to begin with, and further compromise can feel deeply unsatisfying, if not totally frustrating.

But there is a solid chance that two massive housing bills are going to pass the Washington Legislature this year. That is precisely two more bills than have passed the legislature in most of the last decade, as rents have skyrocketed and traffic has gotten worse. The bills are not perfect, but perfect is the enemy of the done. These bills will result in new housing units, and those units will be in places that are currently resistant, if not outright antagonistic to new development. Again, looking at you Medina.

Article Author

Ray Dubicki is a stay-at-home dad and parent-on-call for taking care of general school and neighborhood tasks around Ballard. This lets him see how urbanism works (or doesn’t) during the hours most people are locked in their office. He is an attorney and urbanist by training, with soup-to-nuts planning experience from code enforcement to university development to writing zoning ordinances. He enjoys using PowerPoint, but only because it’s no longer a weekly obligation.