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April 12, 2021

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Which housing bills are still alive in the Washington Legislature?

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OLYMPIA – Dozens of bills about housing are making their way through the state legislature. Several key tenant protection bills – including ones to end no-cause evictions, require payment plans, and guarantee every poor tenant facing eviction a lawyer – have passed their houses of origin.

Lawmakers also have proposed bills that address longer-term housing priorities, including ones that preempt local zoning to increase housing supply, reform the manufactured home park closure process, and stabilize rent hikes – though not all will pass. Here’s a roundup of those efforts.

Preempting local zoning

A bill sponsored by Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynwood, SB 5235, targets laws that limit the number of unrelated people who can occupy a house, sometimes called “roommate bans.”

According to data compiled by Sightline, at least 162 cities in Washington – including Olympia, Bellingham, Tacoma, and Seattle – have such laws on the books. Bellingham has one of the strictest limits, which prevents more than 3 unrelated people from living together in the same house, although the city says it suspended enforcing the law after a 2019 court decision.

A similar bill passed the Senate in 2020, but was subsequently gutted and ultimately did not pass out of the House, in part due to opposition from cities, Sightline reported.

Liias’ bill also would invalidate local zoning laws that require that owners of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) live on-site. Cities have been moving to take such laws off the books – both Olympia and Kirkland removed the restrictions in 2020 – though the process can take years, as it did in Olympia.

Liias has broader ambitions for increasing housing density, though they appear unlikely to pass this session.

At a public hearing for one of Liias’ bills, SB 5390, Liias said that he would like the state to step in and require duplexes be allowed by-right everywhere that single-family homes are, as Oregon did in 2021.

“As many of you know, if it were left up to me, we would mandate missing middle housing in every jurisdiction across our state, but the legislature has not reached a consensus on that,” Liias said.

A similar bill to Oregon’s that would have mandated cities allow duplexes in all single-family zoned neighborhoods was introduced last year, sponsored by Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, but failed to pass.

What passed instead was HB 1923, which gave cities a list of possible actions to take to increase housing supply, and grant funding to pursue those ideas. The strategy has been, and continues to be, nudge cities towards reforming their zoning laws, but stop short of commanding them to do so.

Another Liias bill, SB 5390, does just that: incentivizes cities to allow “missing middle” housing by creating grants and other financial bonuses to do so. The bill was scrubbed of a provision that would have required certain urban areas to achieve an average minimum density of six units per acre – which could be achieved in a variety of ways, all of which likely involve some amount of missing middle housing – but remains stalled in the Ways and Means Committee nonetheless.

A companion bill in the House, sponsored by Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, HB 1157, would let cities hold on to a larger share of taxes on real estate transactions if they create something called a “real estate excise tax density incentive zone.” Again, the idea is to prod cities to legalize duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and courtyard apartments by giving them financial incentives to do so.

Similarly, another bill sponsored by Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, SB 5312, aims to incentivize transit-oriented development by granting money to cities to pay for Environmental Impact Statements and other costs required by the State Environmental Policy Act when cities make decisions on permitting new housing construction. Under the bill, cities would apply through the Department of Commerce, which would be instructed to prioritize high-density projects near transit. Mullet’s bill passed the Senate 44-3 in February, and is currently in the House Environment and Energy Committee.

On the Republican side, a proposal by Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, to automatically grant all building permits after three reviews or requests for information stalled in the Ways and Means Committee in February. It would also have created a presumption that project applications are approved if jurisdictions did not reply within 14 days after receiving information from the applicant.

Manufactured home park reforms mostly stalled

Several bills addressing the closure of mobile/manufactured home parks were introduced this session, but the only one on track to pass makes only narrow changes to a relocation assistance program.

In the House, Rep. Duerr’s HB 1100 would establish a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase for owners of manufactured homes. Modeled on a law in Washington, D.C., it would require park owners to notify state agencies and resident organizations (often homeowners associations) of intent to sell the park, at which point groups interested in preserving the park have 135 days to make an offer to purchase it. The idea is to give local governments, nonprofits, housing authorities, and park homeowners’ associations a fair chance at buying and preserving the park before putting it on the open market, where a for-profit buyer may seek to redevelop it. The bill seeks to ensure good faith negotiations by imposing financial penalties on park owners who don’t comply.

In the Senate, a bill sponsored by Sen. Mona Das would extend the closure notice period from one to three years for park owners who want to demolish or redevelop manufactured home parks. That bill was recently placed on X-file, which indicates that a bill is dead for this session.

The bill most likely to pass is Rep. Mia Gregerson’s HB 1083, which modifies the Relocation Assistance program, a fund that tenants of manufactured homes pay into when they purchase the home and can be accessed when parks are demolished or redeveloped, providing up to $7,500 for a single-wide and $12,000 for a double-wide.

Currently, the Department of Commerce will only give 40 percent of the funds as cash assistance, while the rest must be reimbursed for expenses related to moving the manufactured home, a process that is rarely physically or financially viable for residents.

The bill would remove that cap. An amendment from Rep. Caldier upped the benefits to a maximum of $11,000 or $17,000 but added a 90-day window for tenants to dispose of the home or transfer the title to the park owner, and allows park owners to claim the remainder of the funds if they fail to do so.

HB 1083 passed the house 98-0, and advanced to the Senate Rules Committee on Friday.

Rent control: dead again

Amid a worldwide pandemic that has put more than 100,000 Washington renters behind on payments, you might think that efforts to stabilize rent would gain a foothold in Washington. You would be wrong.

Sen. Mona Das introduced SB 5139, that would have banned rent increases for six months following the expiration of Gov. Inslee’s eviction moratorium (which currently prohibits rent increases), and limited them for a subsequent six months after that to 3 percent plus the consumer price index.

“Rent stabilization,” which is different from rent control, and has already passed in California, Oregon, and elsewhere, limits rent increases rather than freezing them outright. California caps them at 7 percent plus inflation, while Oregon’s is 5 percent plus inflation, with significant exceptions.

In past years, Rep. Nicole Macri has introduced bills to limit rent increases, but they have failed to pass. Das’ bill failed to advance past the Senate Housing and Local Government Committee, and has not been touched since Feb. 11, so it appears dead for this session.

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