An affordable housing shortage and rise of homelessness in Washington are well-known priorities on both sides of the aisle this session — both parties have held press conferences showcasing their legislative efforts.
Most recently, House Democrats last Thursday presented a package of 34 bills aimed at affordable housing and homelessness.
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Rep. Nicole Macri, who confirmed she was the point person in coordinating the bills, stood beside several other legislators, people impacted by evictions, and Dr. Timothy Thomas, a post-doc researcher at the University of Washington.
Thomas directed a study, released Thursday, that looks at “how rent, changing neighborhoods, homelessness, and evictions relate to housing insecurity.”
The study found that one in 55 Washington adults have experienced an eviction, and that evictions disproportionately impact black adults and women.
According to Thomas’s research, a person needs to make $90,000 in order to afford rent for an average-priced home in King County and $55,000 to afford rent in an average-priced Pierce County home. And, the amount of affordable housing is in decline.
“…in brief, Washington has lost 76,865 affordable homes at $800 or less since 2012, coinciding with an increase in homelessness that matches Great Recession numbers,” Thomas’s report reads.
“This session, Democrats in the legislature are offering a bold agenda to create affordable housing and prevent homelessness,” Macri said at the press conference. “The agenda is simple: Build more, build up, build better, and build stability.”
Thirty-four bills is, objectively, an ambitious package to pass in one session. Macri emphasized a handful of them that “are really high priority” that Dems will “work hard to get passed.”
The high-priority shortlist of House bills included:
- 1406: A bill that would allow counties or cities to impose a sales tax, credited against the state sales tax, for affordable housing. That bill passed out of committee last week and is now in the House Finance Committee.
- 1921 would change the real estate excise tax (REET) from a flat rate to a graduated rate, depending on home price, and invest some of the new revenue in affordable housing via the Housing Trust Fund.
- 1306 would reform condominium-liability statutes, which Macri said would allow an increase in productivity of condominiums.
- 1923: A bill aimed at several aspects of the Growth Management Act. Macri framed it as increasing housing supply in cities and towns near existing amenities and infrastructure, especially transit; and
- 1446, 1453, 1656, and 1694, all of which would amend the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA) and all of which had public hearings last week.
On the other side of the aisle, one example of action on housing is Rep. Andrew Barkis’s four-bill “eviction prevention package” (1463, 1462, 1460, and 1461). The bills in Barkis’s package also amend the RLTA; all four have bipartisan support.
Right now, the RLTA requires landlords to give tenants three days notice to pay or vacate the premises. Barkis said the center of the conversation right now is the change each side would like to see in that notice period. One of Barkis’s bills would increase the period to five days. One of the bills in the Dems’ package would increase it to 21 days.
Barkis owns a property-management company in Olympia called Hometown Property Management, and he said he’s been in the business for about 25 years. He said he landed on the five-day notice period after engaging with stakeholders and researching typical pay-or-vacate notice periods around the country.
“The average is between zero and seven days,” Barkis said. “I proposed five days with the primary reason being that we looked at all the data and found that, if people had just a couple extra days, it could make the difference between getting help and not getting help.”
He also said that while he “really appreciate[s] the effort put forth by Rep. Macri,” he doesn’t see a path to compromise with the Dems having a strong majority this session.
“They’ve got an agenda and they want to push it through,” Barkis said.
As is, he foresees the outcome being “very detrimental to the industry.”
“What’s being proposed from the democrats is a wholesale rewrite of the RLTA,” Barkis said. “If we’re truly looking to do some reform, the right approach would be to develop a task force” and, eventually, come to a compromise.
Three of the four bills from Barkis have had public hearings and are scheduled for executive session.
When asked if she was concerned whether the broader agenda would be successful, given the number of bills involved, Macri mentioned work done since last session and acknowledged that some of the ideas may be more future-looking. She said she’s met with several other members to ensure the bills were “complementary,” rather than “conflicting.”
“For me — this is my third year in the legislature — it feels to me like the most coordinated and strategic package of bills related to affordable housing and homelessness that I have seen,” Macri said “Not only in my time in the legislature but in my many, many years advocating for action in this area.”
Outside of the legislature, Macri is the Deputy Director for Strategy at the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), which provides services to homeless and formerly homeless people in Seattle.
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