State lawmakers say they intend to propose a variety of bills during the 2021 legislative session to tackle landlord-tenant relations and housing supply through Growth Management Act (GMA) reforms. However, a number of proposals could draw strong controversy, and some legislators say they are skeptical that much can be achieved during a remote session.
“The challenge we face in growth management and in planning wasn’t created in a day – and won’t be solved in a day,” Sen. Marko Liias (D-21) said during the Association of Washington Business (AWB) Dec. 15 virtual housing summit. “Our state has a housing crisis. This is a problem that is shared by communities all across Washington.”
Although Washington’s housing affordability problems and supply shortages have been around for several years, Governor Jay Inslee’s state of emergency issued in March temporarily classified most housing construction as “nonessential,” bringing work in the sector to an abrupt halt for several months, which builders say prevented homes from being completed and new owners from moving into near-finished units. Additionally, he issued an eviction moratorium that extends through the end of the year and is now under legal ; many landlords have argued that the moratorium has enabled tenants to avoid paying rent despite being employed.
Sen. Judy Warnick (R-13) said at the virtual summit that she anticipates the effects of the eviction moratorium to be a focus this session in the Senate Housing Stability & Affordability Committee where she serves as a member. “This can be a big issue depending on how long those moratorium last and how long our current COVID-19 condition lasts,” also noting that many landlords may decide to leave the rental market.
She added: “We had a housing shortage before the pandemic, so I’m hoping we can find…a way around increasing our housing at a quicker rate.”
Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43) said that “unpaid rent is putting not only pressure on tenants but certainly on the landlords who struggle to maintain their housing without getting regular payments.”
An underlying challenge has been finding sufficient common ground among stakeholders for legislation to advance. Also, stakeholders are divided over what should be prioritized.
“It does require solutions from many different perspectives,” Liias said. “If this crisis were easy to solve, we would have done it already.”
Some of the notable successes in recent years included Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon’s (D-34) HB 1923, passed last year. Supporters viewed it as striking a balance between incentivizing higher density in urban areas while also preserving local autonomy sought by local governments.
HB 2950 sponsored by Macri extended the state’s multifamily housing construction tax exemption, while HB 1797 sponsored by Rep. Mia Gregerson (D-33) encourages cities and counties to allow for accessory dwelling units (ADUs).
“I think we will continue to build on the work we’ve done,” Liias said.
One issue repeatedly cited by builders as contributing to the high housing prices are lengthy permit timelines. Macri said that one way to change that situation is through legislation which “incentives local governments to shorten permitting times.”
At the same time, Macri said proposals could also address other issues such as climate change and equity – topics that were the focus of potential legislation unveiled at a House Environment and Energy Committee meeting late last month. However, many of the possible GMA revisions or additions have drawn criticism from both local government advocates as well as builders.
Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-2) said one goal should be to reduce housing construction costs by 20-25 percent. “We found that when we can do that, we get better housing, we get affordable housing. (It’s) not just our government that’s going to provide a roadmap.” He added that he’s worried the legislature instead is “going to add more and more and more layers” to the process.
“It’s going to be tough on any issue this session just because of COVID,” he said.
The legislative session starts Jan. 11.