Senate approves urban housing bill

Senate approves urban housing bill
The Washington Senate has approved a House bill intended to boost housing supply within urban areas. Photo: freepik.com

The Washington Senate on April 13 voted 33-12 in favor of a House bill intended to boost the housing supply within urban areas in the state without undermining the local authority of cities and counties. ESSHB 1923 sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34) encourages cities subject to the state Growth Management Act to increase the residential supply in part by exempting ordinances and regulations developed through 2021 from appeals under GMA or the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process. It passed the House 66-30 on Mar. 13.

The final bill approved on April 13 was touted as a compromise between city and county advocates who prefer land-use decisions be made at a local level and building industry members who view more housing as a way to improve affordability – particularly in the central Puget Sound region.

“One thing that we’ve heard loud and clear from every single stakeholder is that we need more options out there; this bill is designed to incentivize cities to build more,” Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-48) said on April 13. “We feel that this is a terrific path forward and that it will increase the density.”

ESSHB 1923 was introduced to provide cities with a “menu” of policy options to increase housing. However, before it was approved lawmakers scrubbed much of the mandatory language that appeared in prior versions of the bill, such as requiring that cities take certain actions depending on population size. It also removed provisions for cities related to parking space requirements for different types of residential dwelling units.

Another section of the bill exempts land-use policies and ordinances from appeals under GMA and SEPA through April 1, 2021.

“It’s not often that we have these competing interest groups all saying ‘yes’ to this bill,” Sen. Guy Palumbo (D-1) told colleagues on the Senate floor. “We really do feel that a lot of the cities are going to take advantage of this. I hope next year when we come back, we’re going to find that a lot of our big cities are already underway in parts of this bill.”

As part of the law, the Washington Center for Real Estate Research will have to complete a report by October 2020 that examines actions taken by cities to increase residential building capacity. The state Department of Commerce is also authorized to give grants of $100,000 or more for applications with “extraordinary potential” to either boost the housing supply or streamline pertinent regulations.

Although he voted in favor of the bill, Sen. Hans Zeiger (R-25) noted opposition within his party to the bill due to a provision creating a $2.50-per document record fee charged by the county auditor. “This is on top of significant increases to the document recording fee that we have seen in recent years, he said.

“All in all…this is a well- worked bill…that responds to a real need that is out there, namely the growth that we are seeing in our state,” he added. “But I think in the long run this has to be the beginning of a conversation about the Growth Management Act, rather than thinking that we can be satisfied with this policy here today. We can’t solve all of our growth management issues by thinking that somehow we’ll pack everybody into the existing spaces that we’ve set aside for urban growth.”

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