WA State 2023 Legislative Session Favored Affordable Housing!

This year’s legislative session in Olympia featured significant activity to address the housing crisis, from both the affordability and supply perspectives. 

Habitat SKKC’s Chief Advocacy Officer, Ryan Donohue, worked closely with legislators throughout the session, and reported progress… with more to be done. Legislation that made its way to the Governor’s desk addressed elements that support Habitat efforts throughout the region by allowing for increased housing density by helping first time homebuyers financially and by providing that climate change be considered as housing access grows.

Legislators allocated over $400 million in affordable housing and affordable homeownership – this is a record level of state dollars invested in affordable housing. Among other areas, this year’s budget allocations support Transit Oriented Development (TOD), a focus for Habitat SKKC in the coming years. It also supported Affordable Homeownership at record levels, allocating $40 million specifically for competitively awarded funds for homeownership. That smashes the previous record of $25 million, set just last year!

There were policy wins too! Legislation that specifically supports affordable housing includes the much-discussed HB 1110 which changed zoning in Urban Growth Areas to allow for increased middle housing.  Middle housing includes townhomes, duplexes and multi-family dwellings, the housing types Habitat is developing region wide. Zoning changes in HB 1110 vary according to a city’s population, but we at Habitat will be able to build a duplex at minimum across King County, and a six-plex throughout almost all of Seattle! It’s a perfect example of how Habitat for Humanity is working on policy change to build more homes in more places all across Washington!

Another huge win was the passage of the Covenant Homeownership Account bill, or HB 1474. This bill, which was a priority agenda item for Habitat, works to address past racial harms that the state enforced using racial covenants on homes, blocking people of color from owning homes across much of Washington. It creates a Special Purpose Credit Program which will provide down payment and closing cost assistance to first time homebuyers who are at or below 100% AMI, descendants of a Washington State resident who resided here on or before the enactment of the FHA on April 11, 1968, and was or would have been excluded from homeownership by a racially restrictive real estate covenant. 

Another bill we at Habitat and other members of the affordable housing coalition focused on passing was HB 1250 which cleaned up the Home Rehab Loan Program (HRLP) by converting it from a loan to a grant program. And it changed eligibility for the program to include applicants at 80% AMI, 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, or 60% of state AMI, whichever is greater. This opens the eligibility for more homeowners to stay in their homes instead of having to start back at the beginning of the housing continuum. The new program takes effect July 1, 2023, and will convert all existing loans to grants.

We supported a wide range of legislation this year and saw much of it cross the finish line!

Other legislation that we supported and helped pass in this session favors housing affordability, development density, and supply. 

SB 5301 – Changes the Housing Trust Fund (HTF) to simplify the application process for first time homebuyers by adjusting the definition and timelines for loan applicants. The bill also requires comparison of the total project and per-unit costs to similar housing projects in the same geographic area. HTF awards must fund projects sufficiently to complete an applicant’s financing package, and the bill provides for no maximum on per-applicant awards.

HB1337 – Requires that cities allow the construction of ADUs . This must be implemented with the upcoming comprehensive plan updates.

SB 5258 – Creates a process for construction defect claims on condos to be addressed before lawsuits occur, making it easier to build more condos and provide more homeownership opportunities for people looking for something other than a traditional single family detached house.

SB 5142 – Exempts all residential projects in an Urban Growth Area from SEPA on the assumption that development regulations are satisfied, and the city/county has prepared an EIS for the proposed use or density in the area. And it includes analysis of multi-modal transportation impacts.

HB 1349 – Allows a referral to mediation on foreclosures until 90 days prior to the date of sale. It also requires that a trustee delay a foreclosure sale for at least 30 days upon receipt of written notice from the Homeowner Assistance Fund Program that a federal relief fund application has been submitted.

HB 1042 – Restricts cities from preventing residential conversions that increase density if they are constructed entirely within an existing building envelope and generally meet health and safety standards. Additionally, cities are prohibited from imposing parking requirements, extraordinary permitting, or design standard requirements beyond those generally applicable to residential development.

HB 1695 – Specifies that one can use surplus property for affordable homeownership. This means that the cost of the mortgage principal, interest, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, homeowner’s association fees, and land lease fees, do not exceed 38% of the household’s monthly income, and total household debt does not exceed 45% of the household’s monthly income.

SB 5290 – Establishes an abbreviation of permit review process times to 45 days for permits not needing public notice, 70 days for permits that need public notice and 120 days for those that need public notice and a public hearing. It does allow modification by local ordinance.

HB 1181 – Adds climate change and resiliency to goals of the Growth Management Act and requires that cities include it in their comprehensive plan. The Department of Commerce is mandated by this bill to create a model climate change and resilience element, and to publish guidelines that specify a set of actions counties and cities can access to reduce Green House Gas emissions and per capita Vehicle Miles Traveled by, among other things, adding density in housing supply.

HB 1326 – Authorizes city water and sewerage systems to establish programs that waive connection charges for properties owned or developed by, or on the behalf of, a nonprofit
organization, public development authority, housing authority, or local agency that provides emergency shelter, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, or affordable housing.

Over the rest of the year, we will focus on the renewal of the Seattle Housing Levy, Comprehensive Plan updates in cities all across King and Kittitas Counties and preparing for the 2024 legislative session!

Be sure to sign up for Habitat Action Alerts by using the link here and stay up to date on all the efforts of the Habitat Advocacy Team as we work to build a world where everyone has a safe, decent, and affordable place to call home.