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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Washington legislators introduce two bills to boost affordable housing

Measures aim to increase low-income housing tax program participation

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 21, 2022, 6:05am

Two bills co-sponsored by Southwest Washington legislators would increase the number of affordable housing developments, especially to low-income families and individuals.

State Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, is co-sponsoring Senate Bill 5759, which aims to increase participation in the state’s low-income housing tax credit program. The bill would require the Housing Finance Commission to amend its policies and project scoring criteria for private developers in the tax credit program.

Housing financed through the program must be affordable to households with incomes at 60 percent or less of the area’s median income and must remain affordable to low-income tenants for at least 30 years. Private developers can receive a 9 percent tax credit that typically generates equity for 70 percent of the project’s development costs, according to the bill.

The bill had its first public hearing before the Senate Committee on Housing and Local Government on Thursday.

State Sen. Chris Gildon, R-Puyallup, the bill’s primary sponsor, said during the hearing that a recent study found there has been low participation in the program. In fact, Gildon said, there has been no participation by private developers since 2013.

“A recent report from the Affordable Housing Board indicates we have about 780,000 households earning less 50 percent of the area’s median income. And we only have about 440,000 housing units affordable to that income level,” Gildon said, adding those numbers were pre-pandemic.

The bill will go back to the Senate committee for any amendments or revisions requested before a vote is taken to bring it to the floor.

Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, from the 49th District, is co-sponsoring House Bill 1841, which would provide a property tax exemption for an accessory dwelling unit as long as it is rented to a low-income household. State Rep. Amy Walen, D-Kirkland, is the bill’s primary sponsor.

An accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, is a smaller, independent residential dwelling sited on the same lot as a stand-alone single-family home. Basement apartments, mother-in-law suites, an apartment over the garage are all examples of ADUs.

A low-income household means a single person, family, or unrelated persons living together whose adjusted income is at or below 80 percent of the median household income for household size in the county. The bill had its first public hearing before the House Finance Committee Thursday.

“Families are fragile, and they need our support,” Walen said during the hearing.

Walen noted when it comes to housing, “there’s no silver bullet, but there’s silver buckshot. This is a little piece of silver buckshot to try to address this need to provide incrementally more housing for folks who have lower incomes.”

Another bill co-sponsored by Wylie, House Bill 1666, was also heard by the House Finance Committee on Thursday. This bill would allow a cost-basis method to be used to determine the value of public infrastructure projects, such as road construction, when calculating use and business and occupation taxes.

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During the hearing, Wylie said the bill was needed after the state Department of Revenue changed the definition and application of how taxes are calculated on public infrastructure projects.

“A lot of what we do is fixing somebody’s good intentions, whether it’s one of our predecessors here in the Legislature or somebody in a state department,” Wylie said.

The bill would most affect asphalt companies, which are currently required to use comparable values of recent sales of asphalt materials to determine project values.

Both bills will go back to the committee for review.

Long term care tax

Also this week, 20th District state Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, brought his bill to repeal the long term care tax to the House floor for a vote. The bill, HB1913, was voted down 57-40.

During floor debate, Abbarno said while he hadn’t yet been elected to the House in 2019 when the Washington Cares Act was passed, he has followed the issue and studied the state’s actuarial report.

“My legislation would address solvency, period. It creates a predictability for all those workers paying into the WA Cares plan and those workers with private policies,” Abbarno said during the debate. “Pausing the program is one option. Repealing an insolvent program is another option that should be considered.”

Instead, the House voted 91-6 to approve House Bill 1732, which delays implementation of the long term care program for 18 months.

Abbarno is also co-sponsoring House Bill 2068, along with state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, to recognize legendary country singer Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library as a statewide program. Parton began the Imagination Library program in 1995.

If passed, HB 2068 would help provide free books to children ages birth to 5 years old. The bill had its first reading Thursday and was referred to the House Children, Youth and Families Committee.