Builders outline policy changes needed to help solve housing crisis.

Posted by on Tuesday, November 27th, 2018 at 3:42pm

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Policy changes accompanied by funding to plan and implement them are needed to make housing more accessible in the Puget Sound region, according to several speakers at a Housing Solutions Breakfast held last month in Bellevue.

The event, organized by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, and presented with support from Seattle King County REALTORS®, drew more than 220 participants, including builders, Realtors, and several elected officials.

MBAKS unveiled its 2019 legislative priorities, with condominium liability reform topping the list.

"As our region continues to face a significant housing crisis, we believe bold solutions are needed to help meet our vision," stated the association's 2018 and 2019 presidents in introductory remarks to its "Action Plan for Housing."  The group's vision is "to ensure everyone has access to a healthy and productive place to call home."

Other priorities for advancing the group's housing attainability solutions include:

  • Establishing a minimum net urban density standard for cities in King and Snohomish counties, which would encourage more density and supply near job centers.
  • Providing funding to cities to adopt needed code updates in support of housing. The new grant fund would enable local jurisdictions to streamline and modernize the permit process and adopt process efficiencies and pro-housing measures.
  • Clarifying Common Interest Community Act legislation to streamline processes and save costs associated with compliance.
  • Changing the standard for Urban Growth Area short plats to nine lots (up from four) with a local option to allow short plans to go up to 30 lots, thereby making housing more attainable near job centers.
  • Modifying the Local Project Review Act to reduce timelines for completeness review. Such revisions would make the permit process more predictable and help alleviate cost pressures on new home construction.
  • Securing funding for SB 5254 to reform the Buildable Lands Report. Improved methodology would enable a more realistic process for assessing buildable lands and better determining land suitable for development.

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Kat Sims, executive director of MBAKS, commented on recent signs of a shift from a seller's market to a more balanced market in her opening remarks. While such news is encouraging, she emphasized much work remains to close the gap between housing supply and demand and make housing attainable for all. "It's not quite time to break out in celebration. We are still in a housing affordability crisis," she stated.

Continuing that theme, the keynote speaker Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate, noted the Housing Affordability Index "is getting troublesome, even in Pierce County."  Without addressing affordability, this region's economy could start to underperform, Gardner suggested.

Gardner points to the regulatory and legal environment for driving up costs, noting 24 percent of the cost of a new home is attributed to regulations.

Condominiums could offer some relief, but the share of multifamily housing is inadequate given current land constraints and other hurdles developers face, stated Gardner, who also chairs the board of trustees at the Washington Center for Real Estate Research.

"Without condominium liability reform, we are unlikely to see significant increase in multifamily ownership housing." He underscored his point with a slide showing the shift from condos to apartments. It shows apartments have accounted for the majority of the multifamily market share since 2012.

"Every condo being built today is by a Canadian or Chinese developer, not one in the U.S.," he remarked adding, "Expensive, downtown high rises are not the solution." Instead, he suggests "more appropriate" zoning within GMA (Growth Management Act) boundaries is needed.

Using Seattle as an example, he said 69 percent of the city is zoned for single family homes. To illustrate his point he compared the populations of Paris (2.3 million residents) and Seattle (783,000) relative to their size as measured by land:

Housing Solutions Zoning for Seattle compared to Paris

More growth is forecast, underscoring the importance of closing the gap between housing supply and demand, according to Gardner and the Master Builders. Gardner cited data from the Puget Sound Regional Council which projects 1.8 million more residents and 830,000 new households in the Central Puget Sound area by 2050.

The keynoter also noted 1,400 people, on average, have moved into the Central Puget Sound per week during the past three years. He forecasts more than 53,000 new owner households and 40,000 new renter households will be formed in the tri-county area by 2023. "We are running out of land," he commented.

Following Gardner's presentation, State Senator Guy Palumbo from the 1st Legislative District, highlighted key housing topics for the 2019 legislative agenda.

"We're at a unique situation in time with McCleary off the decks," Palumbo remarked, referring to a decade-long dispute over the state's obligation to fund public education. Now, he said, "Everyone on competing sides agrees we have to increase supply. We have a unique opportunity in the next session to get something really big done on housing."

Palumbo emphasized the need to "do something to add density, especially in areas around transit.  We need to either turn the tide toward cities or start solving for sprawl and investing in infrastructure."

Panelists then gathered on stage with moderator Peter Orser, to continue the discussion on housing solutions. Orser is former president and CEO at Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Company and the current chair of the Advisory Board at the University of Washington's Runstad Department of Real Estate Studies.

Panelists included Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon of the 34th Legislative District; Rep. Tana Senn of the 41st Legislative District; Georgia Stevens, broker at Compass and SKCR's vice president of governmental  and public affairs; and Tony To, executive director at HomeSight. Their discussion focused on challenges facing buyers and renters and identifying a priority for making housing more attainable.

To close the program, the Master Builders bestowed "Champions of Housing Legislator Awards" to Fitzgibbon, Palumbo and Senn for their efforts to improve housing affordability.

“Information and statistics derived from Northwest Multiple Listing Service.”

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