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Are Washington housing affordability and climate change on a collision course? Some think they are

By Rolf Boone, The Olympian
Published: February 19, 2024, 1:12pm

Olympia — It seemed like a straightforward agenda item for Lacey City Council: Listen to a presentation and approve an interlocal agreement tied to Thurston climate initiatives.

But as soon as the discussion landed on the prospect of a home energy assessment each time a home is marketed for sale, the questions started: Who would pay for it? How would they pay for it? And what would it do to overall affordability?

It finally prompted council member Lenny Greenstein to vote against the interlocal agreement. He said that should an ordinance come before the council at a later date that tries to require such assessments, and he would vote against that too.

“There’s no way in the world I could possibly support it,” he said. “We are constantly talking about the lack of affordable housing in our community and yet we keep passing things that drive up the cost of housing. We can’t have it both ways.”

Housing affordability is a serious topic in Thurston County. The median price of a home is about $500,000 and average rents are about $1,500. But addressing climate change is a priority, too, and that’s one goal of House Bill 1433, currently working its way through the state Legislature.

Lacey City Council’s Feb. 6 discussion about the interlocal agreement is tied to that bill. A version of that bill was recently passed out of the House — 55 to 42 — and now it heads to a Senate committee hearing next week. The bill’s original sponsor is Rep. Davina Duerr, a Democrat from Bothell.

“The legislature finds that improving the energy efficiency of, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from, existing residential buildings, including detached single-family homes, is critical to meeting the state’s climate goals,” the bill reads.

“The legislature further finds that making information about energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions available to homebuyers will help homebuyers make more informed decisions and that this information will cause the market to better value the efficiency and the greenhouse gas impacts of energy consumed in a home.”

Consumer transparency is a key part of the legislation, Duerr said. When someone buys a car, the fuel efficiency of the vehicle is clearly marked, but when buying a home, an even more significant investment, those details aren’t known, she said.

Duerr shared with The Olympian a home energy assessment “score card” currently being used in Oregon.

In this particular case, a two-bedroom home in Bend, Oregon, rated an 8 out of 10, and it’s annual heating costs were pegged at $976 a year. To improve its score, it was recommended that the home be insulated to a higher standard, that air leakage be reduced and it be professionally air sealed.

So will the home energy assessment be required? Possibly, according to the bill.

“Cities and counties may require that the owner of a single-family residence obtain and make available a home energy performance report before the residence may be publicly advertised for sale,” the bill reads.

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Assessment costs still need to be determined, although the bill does provide direction for low-income home sellers.

“In order to minimize the financial impacts on low-income home sellers associated with a requirement to obtain a home energy performance report, neither a city nor a county may require a home energy performance report until the city or county has first conducted an analysis of such financial impacts and adopted a program to mitigate such financial impacts, including the subsidization of the cost of home energy performance reports for low-income home sellers.”

During the Lacey City Council meeting, some thought that the assessment costs and recommended improvements might be covered by the federal government’s Inflation Reduction Act bill of 2022.

Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder thinks those costs could be recovered through a rebate, although he wants to make sure that process is clearly spelled out.

“We need to make sure we are lining those up so that it’s easy to do,” he said.

Not all are thrilled with HB 1433. Rep. Andrew Barkis, a Republican from Olympia, voted against it on the House floor.

“This is bad policy,” he said, especially at a time when “we are trying to remove barriers from home ownership and increase the supply side of homes.”

Although he fears that the bill ultimately will pass, it shouldn’t be because if you want to evaluate the energy efficiency of your home. Those options already exist in the market, he said.

HB 1433 is set to come before the Senate Committee on Environment, Energy & Technology at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 20.

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