Study highlights Washington’s housing shortage

Study highlights Washington’s housing shortage
A new study by Up For Growth concludes that between 2000-2015, Washington under-produced housing by 225,600 units. Photo: freepik.com

When it comes to housing affordability in Washington state, building advocates have sought to highlight the need for greater housing supply to meet growing demand. A newly-released study from the organization Up For Growth confirms a number of their observations and may provide the basis for some land-use reform legislation this session.

According to the study, between 2000-2015 the state under-produced housing by 225,600 units. During that same period, the state’s population grew by 1.36 million – from 5.8 million to 7.16 million.

While the study notes the significant population increase’s contributions to the lack of housing, it concludes that the shortage was driven primarily by local land-use policies favoring low-density residential development.

Allison Butcher, senior policy analyst for the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, told Lens that a combination of high land value, mitigation fees and permits also often prevent entry-level type housing projects – problems also noted in the study.

“That’s often why projects don’t pencil out,” she said.

Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) Government Affairs Director Jan Himebaugh told Lens that “we don’t know how you make housing affordable by making it more expensive.”

The Up For Growth study also concludes that under current housing development, almost 70 percent of the 225,600 residential units not built would be single-family homes. Only around 30 percent would be composed of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), duplexes, triplexes or quad homes. The result: younger residents or those with lower incomes struggle to get housing, while older residents remain in their homes as the value of their properties increase.

Himebaugh said that housing in Washington is “missing the middle rungs – it’s hard to move up and down. (Under) GMA we are supposed to have a variety of housing, but when we don’t allow one type it puts pressure on all the other types of housing. When you say no to multifamily, higher-density neighborhoods, you put additional pressure on your single-family neighborhoods.”

Butcher said that another issue is a delayed response to increasing housing demand due to the time it takes to finance a project and finish construction. That situation was exacerbated during the 2008 housing crisis, when Washington also experienced an influx of new residents to urban areas. Butcher said during that time builders struggled to get construction loans.

“It takes such a long time to get product to market,” she said. “You can’t flip on a switch.”

The study lists several policy areas driving the housing shortage, including:

  • Zoning restrictions on multifamily housing;
  • High impact fees;
  • Onerous housing requirements; and
  • Protracted review processes.

Himebaugh says hopefully this legislative session will fix some of these issues. “We want more housing, more accountability for local jurisdictions to actually say ‘yes, that’s what we want,’ and less paperwork.”

Although previously less optimistic about the session, Butcher said: “housing is maybe going to be a bigger issue than we thought at first. I thought it might be more competing with all the other things in a short session,” adding that the study may “offer legislators who may be on the fence help to understand there really is a problem here. It’s a clear reminder there really is a housing crisis here.”

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