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MBAKS Event Showcases Need for More Housing

Posted on Oct 25, 2018 in:
  • Housing Affordability
  • Industry Issues
  • Advocacy

By MBAKS Senior Policy Analyst Allison Butcher

The Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS) held its Housing Solutions Breakfast at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue on Oct. 24, offering a preview of some key housing legislation that will be advanced in Olympia next year.

2018 Housing Solutions Breakfast, credit Alabastro Photography

With more than 220 in attendance, MBAKS Executive Director Kat Sims kicked off the event by unveiling the association’s Action Plan for Housing. These and other ideas discussed at the breakfast are intended to increase housing supply and eliminate unnecessary and costly hurdles to new home construction, without compromising environmental or consumer protections.

Housing Market Changes

Commenting on some recent changes in our region’s housing market, Sims said, “While we are just starting to see signs of a shift from a seller’s market to more of a balanced market, which is good news, it’s not quite time to break out in celebration.”

“We are still in a housing affordability crisis,” she explained, adding, “Much work remains to close the gap between housing supply and demand, and to make housing attainable for all.”

Momentum for Condo Reform

The top of MBAKS’ list of legislative priorities is condominium liability reform. There has been growing momentum among city and state leaders, housing affordability advocates, and the housing industry, to pass legislation that would reduce excessive litigation risk and encourage construction of affordable condos.

Making the economic case for condo reform and increased housing supply, Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner pointed to the fact that we are running out of buildable land, which is forcing land prices up. Add to this construction labor shortages, material price increases, and regulatory costs associated with land development and bringing new homes to market, it is clear we need to start embracing more density if we want to keep housing affordable.

2018 Housing Solutions Breakfast, credit Alabastro Photography

Furthermore, Gardner said, "without condominium liability reform, we are unlikely to see significant increases in multifamily ownership housing."

Gardner explained that expensive high-rise condos won’t meet our aggregate demand for housing. To make meaningful progress, we must look at how we can best utilize our limited land supply. That includes making sure we have appropriate zoning within our urban growth areas and finding ways to add more affordable mid-rise condominiums, fee-simple townhomes, and other housing options that will help meet market demand.

Gardner cautioned that while our local economy remains very robust, when employers consider moving here, they may end up looking elsewhere due to the high cost of living that’s directly associated with home prices and rents in the Seattle region.

Minimum Net Urban Density

Another housing priority highlighted at the Housing Solutions Breakfast was a proposal to establish a minimum net urban density standard for cities in King and Snohomish counties.

Senator Guy Palumbo echoed Gardner’s remarks about the need to add more housing near job centers, saying, “We are at a breaking point where we need to do something to add density. ... We need to either turn the tide toward cities or start solving for sprawl and investing in infrastructure.”

Palumbo introduced a bill in the last legislative session that would have established a net minimum density standard inside urban growth area cities. He said he would like to continue advancing new solutions in the coming session that would make meaningful progress on establishing minimum density standards while expanding the variety of housing types to add more “missing middle” housing.

2018 Housing Solutions Breakfast, credit Alabastro Photography

Palumbo said he feels optimistic that we have a unique opportunity in the next legislative session to advance structural changes to the Growth Management Act and how we deal with the housing crisis.

Planning Grants

Senator Palumbo touched on another proposal in MBAKS’ Housing Action Plan—grants for positive planning. The idea is to provide funding to cities to adopt needed code updates in support of housing, such as administrative approval of final plats, and measures to streamline and modernize the permit process, among others.

Establishing this new grant fund would enable local jurisdictions to leverage limited resources to adopt practical process improvements that are designed to eliminate unnecessary and costly hurdles to new home construction.

Panel Discussion Drives Home Need for Reform

The Housing Solutions Breakfast also featured a panel of policymakers and housing experts, moderated by Peter Orser with UW’s Runstad Department of Real Estate. The discussion highlighted the challenges facing buyers and renters and reaffirmed that much work is needed to ensure more of our region’s residents can live near job centers.

2018 Housing Solutions Breakfast, credit Alabastro Photography

Panelists included State Representatives Joe Fitzgibbon and Tana Senn, Georgia Stevens with Compass, and Tony To, executive director of HomeSight.

Stevens, who will be the Seattle King County REALTORS president elect in 2019, discussed the reality that buyers encounter with so few housing choices available to them, especially at affordable price points. Many are forced into long commutes, leading to time away from family and other quality of life trade-offs when they would prefer to live closer to their jobs.

Tony To described the challenges of being involved in condo litigation, saying it ultimately drives insurance costs up and hurts housing affordability. He's suggested that policymakers need to come together under a "big tent" and form a common agenda that ultimately increases housing stock for all economic segments.

Senn spoke about her efforts to advance condo liability reform. She said she is working on this issue because there’s such a great need for more housing opportunities for older adults looking to downsize and stay in their communities, as well as young people hoping to buy their first home.

2018 Housing Solutions Breakfast, credit Alabastro Photography

Fitzgibbon highlighted his work around State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) reform and efforts to provide more housing choices. He also touched on some of the positive changes that are brought about by growth that make our communities more vibrant. Like Palumbo, Fitzgibbon said he sees opportunity to move housing legislation forward in the next session.

Orser added that more work is needed to remove hurdles to constructing cottage housing. Attached and detached accessory dwelling units hold much promise as a tool to add housing to existing single-family neighborhoods, he said.

Additional Housing Solutions

Other items on the MBAKS Action Plan for Housing include:

  • Technical amendments to the Washington Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act
  • Changing the urban standard for short plats to nine lots in urban growth areas, with a local option to allow short plats up to 30 lots
  • Modifying the Local Project Review Act to eliminate the 28-day completeness review and the 14-day re-review for a determination of consistency
  • Funding to continue successful implementation work related to buildable lands report reform

Sims invited attendees to join with MBAKS in pursuing changes like these that will make a real difference as we tackle our housing affordability crisis.

Special Recognition

The program concluded with a special recognition of all three legislators who participated in the breakfast. Kat Sims presented Senator Guy Palumbo and Representatives Joe Fitzgibbon and Tana Senn with MBAKS Champions of Housing Legislator Awards for their efforts to improve housing affordability.

MBAKS Executive Director Kat Sims at 2018 Housing Solutions Breakfast, credit Alabastro Photography

Representative Fitzgibbon helped find a successful resolution to an unintended consequence from the 2014 wetland rating manual update, resulting in restored buffer widths and an improved climate for housing.

Senator Palumbo championed two major legislative victories in the 2017 legislative session; SB 5254 established funding and a work plan for a renewed buildable lands assessment. The second bill, Administrative Approval of Final Plats, has since been implemented by both King and Snohomish counties and nearly a dozen cities, saving unnecessary time and added cost in the homebuilding process.

Representative Senn was recognized for working tirelessly to support condominium liability reform legislation in the last legislative session and for her continued work to find a desirable solution for multiple stakeholder interests.

 


Photo credit: Alabastro Photography

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Photo courtesy Blue Sound Construction, builder; MaKe Design, architect; and Alex Hayden, photographer