Liability reforms are needed to ensure that new condos are an affordable homeownership option in Washington State. Liability risks for condominiums developers and contractors have reduced condominium development in Washington State to one of the lowest rates in the nation, and new condos often exceed $1 million, well beyond the reach of first-time buyers or those seeking to downsize. Without increasing the supply of new, affordable condominiums, our state will be unable to provide homeownership opportunities and meet the objectives of the Growth Management Act.
More than 25 years after the adoption of the Growth Management Act, some urban areas still do not have the zoned density necessary to accommodate new growth. REALTORS® support legislation increasing minimum housing density in areas with high growth and lack of affordable housing supply, especially in areas served by transit. For suburban cities, REALTORS® support legislation clarifying that regional transportation planning groups like the Puget Sound Regional Council cannot reject growth plans from cities for allowing increased housing supply and growth inside Urban Growth Areas.
While the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) allows short subdivisions of up to 30 lots in Urban Growth Areas, the state subdivision act defines short subdivisions to include only 9 lots. REALTORS® support aligning the short subdivision process with Ecology’s SEPA standard, to improve the affordability of smaller subdivision projects. These projects are often smaller, infill developments, and would be limited to projects inside Urban Growth Areas.
The Housing Trust Fund is an important program that can be used to expand homeownership options. REALTORS® support dedicating a portion of the Housing Trust Fund for first-time homebuyers and for projects that increase the supply of owner-occupied housing.
The recent apartment construction boom provides an opportunity to increase the supply of affordable housing – but only if the state’s multi-family tax exemption program can be expanded to apply to existing buildings. Under current law, only newly constructed buildings qualify for property tax assistance. REALTORS® support legislation expanding this program to enable local governments to include both newly constructed and existing multifamily buildings for property tax relief tied to dedicating units for low-income housing.
The 2018 Legislature approved a record amount of funding for homelessness efforts by establishing a permanent document recording fee of $62, which now will generate over $150 million per biennium. But additional state support of housing and Growth Management programs is needed. The GMA Buildable Lands program requires about $3.5 million to assist local governments in implementing the new buildable lands guidelines, and additional planning grants will support local government efforts to increase density, enable condominium development, and increase housing supply. In addition, after years of diverting infrastructure money to the general fund, the Legislature should now rebuild the Public Works Assistance Account to fund infrastructure critical to new housing supply, and support broadband funding that is necessary for economic and housing development in rural areas.
REALTORS® support equitable lodging tax and licensing requirements for short-term rental properties that function primarily as business operations, while still allowing homeowners to gain additional income from occasional room rentals. The lodging tax can be an important source of local funding for affordable housing and tourism programs at the local level. In addition, REALTORS® support extending the temporary ability of local governments to use a portion of local REET revenues for capital projects to address homelessness.