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Feb. 24, 2024

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2023 session was ‘the year of housing’ for Washington Legislature

Middle housing gets boost; rent cap defeated

By , Columbian staff reporter
Published:

Lawmakers and advocates coined the Washington Legislature’s 2023 session “the year of housing.”

Sunday marked the deadline to pass the last of an extensive batch of affordable housing, homelessness and rent protection bills. And while rental hike protections died in the final hours of the session, lawmakers approved millions to fund affordable developments while providing additional assistance for youth experiencing homelessness and more middle housing options.

What survived?

Legislators passed House Bill 1260, which will end a Reagan-era requirement that requires low-income people with disabilities to pay back their government-issued benefits.

“That means people can keep their Social Security or disability pay and use it for their basic needs, including first and last month’s rent, utilities, and anything they need,” said Michele Thomas, director of policy and advocacy for the Washington Low Income Alliance.

HB 1110, sponsored by Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, will provide more middle housing options statewide. Middle housing refers to duplexes, cottage clusters and townhomes intended to fill the gap between low and high-income housing options.

HB 1337, sponsored by Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, with Republican colleague Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Chehalis, was passed earlier this session. It allows local entities to zone and build more accessory dwelling units. Housing advocates say such units are more affordable for aging residents.

HB 1474, sponsored by Rep. Jamila Taylor, D-Federal Way, will create a covenant homeownership program that aims to address the history of housing discrimination due to racial restrictive housing covenants across the state. Funding from the program will stream from a $100 Covenant Homeownership recording fee from all real estate transactions. The recording fees are anticipated to raise over $100 million every year that will go toward loans for buyers of color and others who will benefit from the program.

What died in session?

But despite multiple bills focused on providing more affordable, equitable, and accessible housing options for Washington residents, many others were killed.

And housing advocates say that what is being done just isn’t enough.

Rental cap requirements for landlords remain a distant future, as HB 1388 and HB 1389 were killed during the 105-day legislative session.

But the most notable housing agenda item to die in the session that ended Sunday was HB 1628, sponsored by Rep Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, which would have added a new tier to the real estate excise tax to 4 percent for a property that is at or above $5 million. The money garnered from the excise tax would have streamed into more affordable home developments, funding homeless providers and creating more affordable housing assistance for adults with developmental disabilities.

“This bill would create a permanent fund source for affordable homes. We would have been able to invest in 6,000 homes instead of 3,000. Not a full solution we need, but it would have gone a long way to building more affordable homes that our communities need,” said Thomas.

Despite the disappointment, housing advocates point out their hope for next year.

“We saw thousands of people who have never spoken to lawmakers before, demanding that they do more to address affordable housing, homelessness and out-of-control rental increase. That’s really significant,” said Thomas. “Everyone’s voice matters and everybody needs to contribute to take to their lawmakers and say, ‘you need to do more. You did well in some areas, and in others you failed.’ In 2024, (lawmakers) need to come back and address housing stability for the many households who are struggling to keep a roof over our heads.”

Breakdown of budget

On Sunday, the House and Senate approved a $69 billion budget. Among the many issues tackled in the budget was the agreement to pour $400 million toward Washington’s construction budget, which will beef up the state’s Housing Trust Fund.

The fund is anticipated to build approximately 3,000 new affordable homes across the state.

Lawmakers’ capital budget will also invest in other affordable housing programs like a land acquisition program that nonprofits can use to purchase land for more affordable housing communities.

Other funding streams:

  •  $95 million toward food assistance programs.
  •  $140 million for emergency housing and rental assistance.
  •  $150 million for the covenant homeownership program.
  •  $60 million for encampment response and outreach.
  •  $26 million for increased funding to the Housing and Essential Needs program.
  •  $40 million to fund the Working Families Tax Credit.

In lawmakers’ operating budget, close to $520 million is dedicated to housing and homelessness. The budget has an emphasis on emergency housing, rental assistance and doubling up development supply.

Lawmakers’ budget also raised the Homeless Student Stability Program to $9 million, and the Washington Family and Youth Fund will receive an additional $1 million (a total of $5 million). The two programs assist students, unaccompanied youth, and families experiencing homelessness.

“The Legislature has sent a clear message that we must do more to prevent our young people from being on the streets,” said Daniel Zavala, executive director of the nonprofit Building Changes. “A home is more than four walls; it provides a launching pad for kids to succeed in schools and their parents to succeed economically.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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