As the debate continues over how best to address the cost of housing, building industry stakeholders say that along with housing impact fees, another factor contributing to higher home prices is the protracted wait time for local governments to process permit applications.,
HB 2886 sponsored by Rep. Chris Gildon (R-25) would require set deadlines for cities and counties to process those applications and automatically approve the permit if no decision is made in the required timeframe. Real estate industry stakeholders testifying at the bill’s Feb. 5 public hearing of the House Local Government Committee said it’s a needed change to increase housing supply, while local government advocates cautioned against rushing the process.
Any local government that plans following the state Growth Management Act (GMA) must develop a permit application process for construction that includes an environmental review, public notice and a public hearing.
Gildon said feedback given by builders is that while land, labor and lumber are relatively fixed costs, permit processes are an area where changes could help reduce the overall cost of homes.
“It could take anywhere from three to five years from the time a developer buys, goes through the permit process, builds the housing units and then finally sells that first unit,” he said. “A lot of that is due to the permit.”
While the bill requires local governments to create deadlines for permit applications, the deadline cannot be longer than 90 days if it doesn’t mandate an open record pre-decision. If it does require one, the deadline cannot be longer than 120 days. Some permit deadlines can go beyond 120 days if the local government finds it necessary under stipulated circumstances.
Among the bill’s supporters is the Washington REALTORS.
“We’ve been talking a lot about how we get housing supply on the ground in a timely manner,” REALTORS Assistant Land Use Director Jeanette McKague told the committee. “We think one of the tools is holding to the timelines. There are a lot more challenges with all the laws and regulations that have been put on the jurisdictions, but we think that we still need to be moving forward to get product on the ground.”
However, city of Everett lobbyist Lyset Cadena warned that the city has less than half the staff it had when GMA was first implemented to handle permits and that processing them has become more complicated.
Washington State Association of Counties Policy Director Paul Jewell urged caution for similar reasons. “It’s important to remember we have a really important job – we protect public health and safety. We make sure that construction is safe for consumers. Unfortunately, those laws and regulations don’t get less complex over time. We’re just asking for you to maintain the time that we have now. If we want to move things faster, we can do that. But it takes more resources. We would need more staff, we would need more technical assistance. We would (also) need more funding.”
No further action is yet scheduled for HB 2886.