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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Affordable-housing measures see mixed success in Olympia

Some bills gain traction in Legislature, while others go nowhere

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: March 19, 2023, 6:00am

In the thick of the Legislature’s 105-day session, various bills aiming to provide more affordable housing for Washington residents are gaining traction, while others have fizzled out on the floor.

Here is how some of those bills have fared.

  • House Bill 1110, sponsored by Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, which aims to provide more middle housing, is making progress in this year’s session. Middle housing refers to units like duplexes, cottage clusters and townhomes, a category that fills the gap between low- and high-income housing options.

The House of Representatives passed the bill with a vote of 75 to 21 last week. It now awaits a Senate decision.

If passed by the Senate, the bill would allow cities to construct duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes on residential lots. In cities with populations at or above 75,000, the bill would legalize fourplexes everywhere and sixplexes within a quarter mile of major bus and train stops. In cities with populations below 75,000 but above 25,000, duplexes would be legalized everywhere, and triplexes if one of the units is classified as affordable.

During a January public hearing, Bateman said the bill would significantly ease the housing shortage and fill the gaps between expensive properties and low-income homes.

“Washington is experiencing a housing shortage, which is culminating in a housing crisis. … This supply imbalance is creating increasingly expensive homes, and increasingly expensive rents that’s impacting our constituents in every corner of the state,” Bateman said during a public hearing.

A similar measure — House Bill 1782, introduced in early 2022 — would reconstruct zoning options and provide more middle-housing options. But due to a lack of Republican support, among other hiccups, the bill didn’t gain traction.

This time around, House Bill 1110 has a more comprehensive approach than its predecessors. Aside from more affordable housing, it aims to address discrimination against marginalized renters.

“If passed, the outcomes of this bill will help to address Washington’s housing shortage through statewide standards,” Clark County Treasurer Alishia Topper told The Columbian in an email. “Locally, allowing middle housing to be built in Clark County’s urbanized areas will provide more affordable housing options for individuals and families who struggle to pay rising rents or find homes they can afford to purchase.”

A 2022 poll of 600 Washington residents conducted by the Sightline Institute and Lake Research Partners found that 61 percent of them support legislation that aims to fill the gap in the middle.

“The bottom line is we need more modest-sized housing options in our community to meet our population growth and income levels of our citizens,” Topper said.

  • House Bill 1389, a rent-stabilization bill aiming to prevent gouging, died on the floor as the House failed to pass the legislation before the chamber’s deadline on March 8.

The bill aimed to ensure reasonable and predictable rent increases. The bill would have installed a cap on how much landlords could increase rent — no more than 3 percent or based on inflation metrics, whichever is higher, but not more than 7 percent.

Supporters said the bills could have also helped address homelessness in the state. Landlords would have been allowed certain exemptions for newly built buildings with the account.

“Rent gouging isn’t going anywhere, and neither are we,” said Michelle Thomas, policy and advocacy director for the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.

The bill had strong support from residents. Legislators received over 20,000 letters and emails from tenants, landlords and other Washingtonians supporting the bill. A public hearing in January also garnered dozens of public testimony on how the measure could help low-income residents.

However, the bill did have pushback. Landlords who spoke at public hearings said it would add burdens for housing providers. And in February, Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, voiced his opposition to House Bill 1389, stating that rent control has proven not to work in the past and would not work now.

“There are a myriad of other things that we can be doing and that we already are doing in the state of Washington to help those who are burdened, who are helping those who are on the margins, who need the most assistance,” Barkis said during a February House Committee meeting.

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  • House Bill 1124 would have put a 5 percent cap on rent increases annually. Exceptions would have been given to landlords who pass at least a six-month heads-up to renters. Renters could then terminate their leases without penalties or fees.

The bill made it to the House floor and died awaiting a second reading from the Rules Committee.

“Housing costs is the No. 1 issue for state voters and directly impacts millions of Washington families and workers,” Thomas said. “Predatory rent gouging and short notice of massive rent hikes amount to economic eviction for thousands of renter households. Rent-stabilization measures introduced this session were opportunities to deliver relief to renters.”

  • House Bill 1628, sponsored by Rep. Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, would increase the supply of affordable housing by modifying the state and local real estate excise tax.

Other bills aiming to add more housing supply and affordable homes have made their way through the House and are awaiting Senate approval.

  • Senate Bill 5235 would allow accessory dwelling units on residents’ properties. If the measure were to pass, Clark County would allow ADUs.

“Not only does it add to the ability to create more homes, but it gives you the ability to develop your own property … more homeownership opportunities, more abilities to create intergenerational wealth,” Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, said during a House floor debate on March 2 in support of the bill.

  • House Bill 1245 would allow homeowners to divide their property lots to build additional units.
  • Senate Bill 5466 would increase housing near major transportation lines. House Bill 1293 aims to streamline the permit process for housing construction.
  • House Bill 1474 would create a covenant homeownership account and program, which would address Washington’s history with racially restrictive real estate rules.
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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.