Habitat SKC’s First Virtual Panel Discussion on the Affordable Housing Crisis

On Wednesday, December 14, Habitat SKKC’s Chief Advocacy Officer Ryan Donohue joined Patience Malaba, Executive Director, Housing Development Consortium (HDC) and Dan Bertolet, Director of Housing and Urbanism for Sightline for the panel discussion “Prioritizing Affordable Housing in the 2023 Legislative Session.” Moderated by Ross Reynolds this was the first in a series of online discussions on affordable housing led by Habitat SKC’s advocacy team.  To watch the full event click here.

At HDC, Patience Malaba leads a consortium of over 200 members working throughout King County in cross sector partnerships to effectively address the affordable housing crisis. HDC’s mission is to develop resources that provide access to affordable housing for low-income people. Dan Bertolet directs Sightline’s Housing Program, one part of the organization’s mission to make the Pacific Northwest a global model for sustainability. Sightline’s offices in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska work with the Seattle staff on reforming democracy, transitioning away from fossil fuels, and supporting sustainable forestry.

Both organizations’ missions dovetail with Habitat’s long-standing mission to build a more safe, affordable place for everyone to call home. All three panelists cited the recent Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) housing report as evidence that the state and county are significantly behind in housing production to meet current and future needs. When it comes to legislative action, all three will tackle changes to zoning laws as the critical first step in addressing the housing crisis.

Patience said HDC will support legislation to change zoning policies, “… but that doesn’t address all the equitability concerns.” Ryan echoed that notion. “Ending exclusionary zoning policies will be critical during this legislative session. We’re more segregated as a community today than we were at the end of redlining. In large part that’s because of the way we’ve used our land use codes.”

Dan referenced Sightline’s early focus on “Smart Growth,” which emphasizes the environmental side of development. Ten years ago, their focus shifted to make smart growth affordable. But the biggest obstacle to making that work was restricted zoning laws that said you can’t build housing near jobs. “So, we started examining policies and found the major culprit is single family zoning, which mandates detached housing on large lots.” Most cities, Seattle included, set aside nearly ¾ of their land for single family housing. Those zoning policies, passed in the 1950s, are not compatible with the current need for compact communities and multi-family housing production.

5 Key Takeaways from the Panel Discussion

  1. The state of housing is bad.
    The region needs over 800,000 new units through the year 2050 to accommodate housing needs. Ryan Donohue: “Home affordability is out of reach for basically everybody – particularly those who’ve never owned a home before. The average home price in King County is $760,000 and $810,000 in Seattle, while Eastside costs are $1.4 to $1.5M. Current zoning laws exclude people of color from being able to access home ownership. Under current zoning laws, we cannot close the racial wealth nor homeownership gap.
  2. The 2023 Legislative priorities to address the housing crisis form a 3-legged stool.
    Dan Bertolet: “In 2019 we started with a bill that would make ADUs easier to build; that’s the gentlest way to add density to a neighborhood.” Needed are additional zoning reforms, such as an ADU bill, a bill to allow lot splitting, a bill to remove parking requirements with new housing along with legalizing middle housing types and higher density building near transit hubs.

In the area of funding and subsidies, HDC supports a Real Estate Investment Tax (REIT) on $4 and $5M homes aimed at producing an additional $225 million dedicated to the State’s Housing Trust fund. On laws that protect renters, a Housing Benefits District Bill calls for $60 billion to create infrastructure in support of mixed communities built near transit throughout the State.

  • Governor Inslee’s proposed 2023 budget shows he sees this as The Year of Housing
    Patience Malaba: “The housing crisis cannot wait for slow or small action. If it’s done right, the budget should include hundreds of millions in permanent support of housing and housing stability.” The Governor’s proposed budget includes:
    • $75 million for homeownership
    • $5 million for BIPOC homeownership
    • $58 million in rental assistance
  • Bipartisan support for affordable housing legislation is possible, even in a polarized legislature.
    • Ryan Donohue: “It’s important to note that both caucuses are on record as saying we need to address the housing crisis. Separation occurs at ‘how’ to get there. We’ll likely see robust support for affordable housing funds, and it’ll be interesting to see where the totals land.”
    • Patience Malaba: “I do believe there is bi-partisan understanding that we are in a housing crisis. I still hope for the goodness of humanity. We need to continue to help people be in a place where there’s a gravitational pull toward collaboration.”
    • Dan Bertolet: “We are strategizing these bills to encourage Republican support.  We have some history of bi-partisan success. The Apple Health & Homes Bill had bi-partisan cooperation.”
  • It’s going to take everyone to support these bills.
    • Ryan Donohue: “To overcome opposition, we’ll bring your voices to the table to talk as much as we can about these bills.  Get involved and take action. Signup for Habitat Legislative alerts, HDC Legislative Alerts and Home WA alerts. There is significant hope.”
    • Patience Malaba: “HDC is working with community groups to strengthen coalitions and work with legislators on building consensus.”
    • Dan Bertolet: “Local representatives are often opponents of these bills. If you’re connected to your local electeds, get those who support these bills to talk in their favor.”

On January 31, 2023, Habitat for Humanity SKC will participate in a panel at the King County Affordable Housing Symposium taking place in person at the Crossroads Community Center from 9 – 11:30 a.m. Habitat Digital Event Series host Ross Reynolds will moderate a panel on Collaborating and Leading the Way for Housing Affordability. For more information or to register click here.