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It’s time to take another look at GMA

After 30 years it’s long past time to take another look at Washington State’s Growth Management Act (GMA). A recent report by the non-profit Up for Growth found that Washington State should have built an additional 225,600 homes over the last 15 years. This supply-and-demand imbalance has resulted in a statewide housing shortage that is one of the most severe in the country.

GMA was adopted in part due to rapid growth in the Puget Sound area, when the state’s population had jumped from 4.1 million in 1980 to 4.9 million by 1990. At the time of adoption, proponents argued that neither the state nor its constituent jurisdictions were prepared to manage the number of people moving here. Our state population has now ballooned to 7,546,400 people. Given the housing crisis we are currently facing, it’s clear that GMA needs adjustment and accountability as Washington’s residential capacity has not kept pace with growth.

This week, a series of bills introduced by Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-Olympia) will be heard in the House. These bills are critical to increasing the housing stock, which would make housing more affordable and attainable by giving rural counties tools for economic growth (HB 2672) and reducing the redundancy in the State Environmental Policy Act (HB 2673).

A third bill, HB 2687, proposes to bring additional emphasis and clarity to the housing element requirements of GMA. GMA needs to require metrics, as the state currently only asks local governments to: “…Encourage the availability of affordable housing to all economic segments of the population of this state, promote a variety of residential densities and housing types, and encourage the preservation of existing housing stock.”

Under that language, jurisdictions are not adequately planning for every housing type identified in GMA. HB 2687 adds accountability to GMA by updating the requirements for countywide planning policies.

Not every city can provide every housing type in sufficient proportions to meet the needs of the community; however, unless actual measuring and reporting are required, there is no way to know if a jurisdiction is meeting their overall goals.

Homelessness is a top bipartisan issue in Olympia this session. While we must address the myriad issues facing low-income and homeless residents, we must also recognize the housing shortage is occurring at all levels on the housing ladder. People in the middle class are struggling to find the right type of housing, in the right location, and at a price they can afford.

We need to address our “missing middle.” These are nurses, first responders, and teachers who serve our communities but can’t afford to actually live in them. They face long commutes to serve cities where they cannot afford to live. This adds pressure to other goals in GMA – mainly to regional transportation infrastructure. Sitting in traffic because you’ve had to “drive to qualify” increases greenhouse gas emissions – ensuring people can live near where they work could dramatically reduce emissions.

Today, a worker earning a middle income of $70,000 has been priced out of homeownership in Seattle and nearby suburbs throughout King and Snohomish counties. Home prices have risen over 60 percent in the last decade, well above the national average (and far above standard inflation), and an average home in the Washington State is $513,941, with a house in King County coming at a median price of $618,117.

The National Association of Home Builders released a report that for every $1,000 increase in the price of a home, 2,100 people are priced out of the market in Washington State, yet we see regulation after regulation imposed in Olympia further driving up the price of all housing. An estimated 25 percent of the price of a home is the result of regulation alone.

There isn’t a silver bullet to solve the housing crisis, but a first step would be making it easier to build housing so that supply can catch up with the need of our population. There are multiple paths available to achieve this simple goal, and the Legislature should be jumping to take those opportunities this session. You cannot make housing more affordable by making it more expensive. It’s time to make housing more affordable.

Sherry Schwab is the 2020 President of the Building Industry Association of Washington, the state’s largest trade organization with over 8,000 members.  She has been a BIAW member for more than 25 years and heavily involved in leadership at BIAW, as well as her local association, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS).  For her contributions to the industry, she has received top awards from MBAKS, named BIAW Remodeler of the Year in 2002, and was inducted into the BIAW Hall of Fame in 2011 and MBAKS Hall of Fame in 2019.

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