Article: Updates on Housing Legislation in Olympia – Our Valley Our Future

By Steve Maher
Our Valley Our Future

Washington state’s 60-day legislative session has ended. Here are bills awaiting Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature that affordable housing advocates are citing as wins:

  • HB 1892 establishes a program that makes low-interest loans available to for-profit developers for the first time. Housing must serve low-income households, defined as those with an income of 50 to 80 percent of the median family income in each county.
  • HB 1987 allows rural counties to use existing “public facilities sales and use taxes” to fund affordable housing projects up to 120 percent of the AMI.
  • HB 1998 legalized what are known as co-living spaces or micro-apartments. Advocates say this type of housing is ideal for people with very low incomes.
  • HB 2375 adds detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to properties that qualify for the senior citizen and disabled person property tax exemption.
  • SB 6173 authorizes cities to use revenue from sales and use taxes to fund the construction of housing that’s affordable to households earning up to 80 percent of the area median income.
  • SB 6175 exempts developers from a sales and use tax if they convert commercial properties to residential properties.

In addition to these new housing laws, the state’s final supplemental operating budget includes $1.3 million to Upper Valley MEND for workforce rental housing in Leavenworth and $248,000 to Common Ground Housing Trust for the Craig Cottages development along Ninth Street in Wenatchee.

The supplemental operating budget also includes $60 million needed to prevent any cuts to homeless services, especially emergency shelter services. And the final supplemental capital budget includes $127.5 million for the Housing Trust Fund. This adds to the record $400 million investment made in last year’s biennial budget.

“This session has been characterized by significant victories and promising developments, but it has also underscored the pressing need for bolder action to tackle housing insecurity in our communities,” said Ethan Robinson, advocacy organizer with Habitat for Humanity of King and Kittitas Counties, in a blog post. “We must keep pressure on our cities and counties, who are still in their comprehensive planning phases, to prioritize housing solutions and support increased capacity across the housing continuum.”

Others have been critical of lawmakers for not passing other bills that would have created a permanent funding source for affordable housing, limited annual rent hikes, and allowed for residential lots to be split into lots as small as 2,000 square feet.

“People can’t wait for supply alone,” state Rep. Emily Alvarado (D-West Seattle) told the Crosscut news site. “Lower-income and middle-income people can’t wait for housing to someday in the future to become affordable.”