SB 6595: The Housing Efficiency and Fairness Act

When it comes to housing policy, City Hall has become impervious to data and reason. We know that the policy of Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (MIZ) will result in higher prices to cover fees that will be charged to new housing construction, exactly the opposite of what people looking for housing need. We also know the money squeezed from the market will flow to a grossly inefficient system of subsidized housing. Finally, the more housing money from the Housing Trust Fund that flows into Seattle to offset the damage means fewer resources for the rest of the state which also has serious housing needs. So in response, Senator Judy Warnick has sponsored Senate Bill 6595, the Housing Efficiency and Fairness Act.
This legislation is a great step forward in fixing what has become a serious resource imbalance between urban and rural Washington. While Seattle makes more and more policies that constrain supply, it also puts pressure on the availability of resources in the Housing Trust Fund. With less supply in Seattle, more people qualify for housing subsidies, and because Seattle has lots of local money, they can leverage many more Housing Trust Fund dollars.
This isn’t fair.
Rural Washington has serious housing issues too. And this legislation can help address the many problems created for hard working people in rural areas by creating predevelopment funds and leverage for tax credits. Often projects in rural Washington don’t stand a chance in a competitive environment for Housing Trust Funds.
Here’s a quick summary of the bill.
Housing Efficiency and Fairness Act
— Cities like Seattle are restricting housing supply with rules and regulations and taxes
— Housing prices then go up
— That means more people qualify for subsidized housing
— That Housing Trust Funds are going mostly for urban projects
— Yet, rural areas are facing a housing supply problem too (Yakima has a 1 percent vacancy rate)
— This has a disproportionate impact on Farmworkers.
  • This bill sets aside half the HTF for rural housing
  • Requires that if no projects are ready for funding that the Commerce Department use HTF for capacity building and predevelopment for projects that have potential
  • Requires more accountability for spending of HTF and tax credit resources, requiring a per unit analysis each budget cycle (projects in Seattle have reached as much as $500,000 per unit compared to less than $100,000 for rural projects)
  • Prevents the use of HTF for any project receiving local taxes (including Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning which is illegal)

A really glaring example of the need in rural Washington was highlighted in a story on KUOW last week, documenting the challenges families at Rattlesnake Ridge experienced when they had to leave their homes (“Residents Displaced By Rattlesnake Ridge Landslide Struggle To Find New Homes.“)

As long as the City of Seattle is going to be the muscle in an effort by non-profits to extort cash out of market rate builders, they shouldn’t be consuming state resources as well. The legislation also would require that the Washington State Housing Finance Commission and the Commerce Department account for and explain the costs of the projects they are funding.

We have no illusions that this bill will make it easily through the process this year. The non-profit lobby is far too powerful. But we’re asking for the bill to get a hearing so that people from across the state can tell their stories about how they are struggling with housing too. And it will allow Seattle builders to talk about the challenges being imposed by a City that is out of touch with basic economics.


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