Stay up to date with the latest updates in the legislative session with our housing newsletter.
Interested in all the groundbreaking housing legislation hitting Olympia this year? We’ve got you covered! Tackling a housing affordability crisis calls for three main fixes: more homes; more funding for affordable homes; and more tenant protections. Impressively, Washington legislators have proposed bills that do all three.
Alone, each strategy is insufficient; together, they form a balanced approach. In growing cities without enough homes for all the people who need them, building more homes of all shapes and sizes holds down average rents and prices, and that helps everyone. Increased funding for subsidies delivers more homes to those who still can’t afford what the market can provide. And tenant protections safeguard those with the least housing security—renters—insulating them from rapid change.
Washington has a pioneering opportunity to enact a coordinated package of housing policies that calls on cities throughout the state to take action collectively. Bookmark this page to keep up on housing bills in Washington’s 2019 legislative session (session calendar here).
Reduce barriers to accessory dwellings (SB 5812)
What it is: The bill aims to spur the production of modest homes like basement or garage apartments in neighborhoods of detached houses. Based on Sightline’s research since 2013, the bill would allow two accessory dwellings per lot, and prohibit restrictions commonly imposed by cities that make it difficult for people to build them, such as off-street parking requirements. UPDATE 2/20: The Senate substitute bill prohibits off-street parking mandates only on lots within a half-mile of transit and other amenities, and limits the prohibition of owner occupancy requirements to cities with population greater than 100,000. UPDATE 2/22: The House substitute bill makes all the provisions permissive. UPDATE 3/11: Lawmakers are debating amendments to the HB 1797 that would limit the scope of the bill including removing prohibitions on owner occupancy, reducing the bills’ applicability to single-family homes alone, and limiting off-street parking prohibitions to ADUs near transit. The Senate passed SB 5812 with an amendment exempting cities that already have ADU regulations.
Why it is important: The freedom to add a basement apartment or a unit above the garage is a common-sense solution that gives homeowners more flexibility and renters more affordable options in our communities.
Status: On March 13, SB 5812 was officially referred to the House Committee on Local Government, and the bill is scheduled for a public hearing on March 27. On March 11, the Senate passed SB 5812. HB 1797 is dead. It failed to pass the House by the March 13 deadline. (Link to bill summary for SB 5812)
Expand capacity for new homes (HB 1923)
What it is: This bill would require cities to take actions to increase housing capacity and affordability or risk losing state funding for public facilities or transportation. For capacity, cities would have to choose two of the following:
- Allow 50 homes per acre on land within 1/4-mile of fixed-guideway transit
- Permit duplexes, triplexes, courtyard apartments in some single-family zones
- Permit corner duplexes or accessory dwelling in all single-family zones
- Cap parking quotas at one space per two dwellings in multifamily zones within one half-mile of fixed-guideway transit
- Carry out a local plan for growth known under state law as a “planned action”
- Adopt all allowed exemptions from state environmental review of residential construction
For affordability, cities would have to choose one of the following:
- Adopt an inclusionary zoning program that sets aside 25 percent of new housing capacity for affordable housing
- Provide surplus property to be used for affordable housing
- Enact an affordable housing levy
All of the above actions would be exempt from the requirements of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). The bill would also reduce parking quotas for affordable housing; cap single-family impact fees at $50,000; prohibit cities from setting multifamily impact fees higher than single-family ones; establish exemptions from legal appeals related to transportation impacts; and ban prohibitions on supportive housing. UPDATE 3/13: The House passed HB 1923 with amendments increasing the parking quota cap and encouraging cities rather than mandating cities to implement housing affordability options.
Why it is important: Regulations that limit the capacity for homebuilding exacerbate the housing shortage that’s driving up rents and prices in communities throughout the state. All Washington cities can do their share by relaxing rules to make room for more homes and also supporting subsidized affordable housing.
Ease restrictions on tiny houses (SB 5383)
What it is: SB 5382 would authorize cities and counties to permit tiny houses as a form of accessory dwelling unit (ADU). SB 5383 would authorize cities and counties to permit “tiny houses with wheels to be collected together as tiny house villages,” and also allow them in mobile home communities. HB 1206 would define a tiny home as: “a dwelling designed for permanent occupancy that is 400 square feet or less in floor area excluding lofts.”
Why it is important: Tiny houses are a flexible, low-budget housing option that can help communities meet their diverse housing needs.
Status: SB 5383 is scheduled for a public hearing on March 19 and an executive session on March 22 before the House Committee on Local Government. On March 6, the Senate passed SB 5383. SB 5382 is dead. It failed to pass the Senate by the March 13 deadline. HB 1206 is dead. It didn’t make it out of the House Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee by the Feb. 22 cutoff date. (Link to bill summary for SB 5383)
What it is: The bill would make fixes to the state’s condo defect liability law that has helped cause a condo construction drought by encouraging frivolous lawsuits. It would tighten what qualifies as a warrantable defect, and shield condo association board members from personal liability so they would be less inclined to file lawsuits just to protect themselves. A second related bill, SB 5219, would exempt condos with seven units or fewer from the state law’s warranty provisions. A third related bill, HB 1576, was originally drafted to require a majority vote of owners to authorize a defect lawsuit, but was revised to instead require a majority vote to reject such an action.
Why it is important: Condos provide a home ownership option for people who can’t afford a pricey detached house, and are an important piece of any city’s housing affordability puzzle.
Status: SB 5334 is scheduled for a public hearing on March 15 and an executive session on March 22 before the House committee on Civil Rights & Judiciary. On March 5, the House passed a substitute bill for HB 1576. The Senate Committee on Law & Justice will hold a hearing on HB 1576 on March 19 and an executive session on March 28. SB 5219 is dead. It failed to pass the Senate by the March 13 deadline. HB 1306 is dead. It did not make it out of the House Civil Rights & Judiciary committee before the Feb. 22 cutoff date. (Link to bill summary for SB 5334, link to bill summary for SB 5219, and link to bill summary for HB 1576)
Re-legalize missing middle homes (SB 5769)
What it is: This bill would expand lower cost housing options in high-opportunity neighborhoods currently restricted to expensive, detached houses. It would mandate that cities allow “missing middle” homes—duplexes, triplexes, townhouses, and small apartment buildings—on lots within a quarter-mile of parks, schools, hospitals, transit, and zones that already allow multifamily housing or commercial uses.
Why it is important: These kinds of mid-size homes, in short supply in most cities, give moderate-income, working families and small households like seniors or young couples more affordable options.
Status: SB 5769 is dead. It didn’t make it out of the Senate Committee on Local Government by the Feb. 22 cutoff date.
Allow more homes near light rail stations (SB 5424)
What it is: This bill would mandate that cities in which Sound Transit locates a station for its ST3 program must zone the residential land within a half mile of the station to accommodate 150 homes per gross acre.
Why it is important: The best way for the region to leverage its multi-billion dollar light rail investment is to put lots of homes near stations, and this bill would make sure local zoning doesn’t get in the way of that.
Status: SB 5424 is dead. It didn’t make it out of the Senate Committee on Housing Stability & Affordability by the Feb. 22 cutoff date.
More funding for affordable homes
What it is: This bill would authorize cities and counties to recapture 0.01 percent sales tax from the state’s currently assessed sales tax, or enact a local levy for a new 0.01 percent sales tax, to generate revenue for acquiring, rehabilitating, or constructing affordable housing; smaller cities/counties could also put the funds toward renter assistance.
Why it is important: Local jurisdictions lack funding sources for affordable housing subsidy to meet the needs of their residents. Sales tax is regressive but spending it on affordable housing helps correct for that.
Status: On March 7, HB 1406 was referred to the Senate Committee on Housing Stability & Affordability, and the bill is scheduled for a hearing before the committee on March 20 and an executive session on March 25. On March 5, the House passed a substitute bill for HB 1406. On Feb. 21, the Senate Committee on Ways & Means held a hearing on SB 5646. On Feb. 4, the Senate Committee on Housing Stability & Affordability passed SB 5646. (Link to bill summary for HB 1406)
What it is: These two bills would authorize cities to enact new real estate excise taxes (REETs) for the sole purpose of funding affordable housing: one at 0.25 percent and the other at 0.5 percent. In 2016, City of Seattle analysts estimated that a 0.25 percent REETwould annually raise $15-20 million in Seattle, or about $1 million in Edmonds, for example.
Why it is important: REETs give cities another housing subsidy funding source, and in booming markets they capture a slice of windfall appreciation for public benefit. But REETs can also raise home prices, and to minimize that downside Sightline recommends exempting new construction.
Status: On March 8, HB 1219 was referred to the Senate Committee on Housing Stability & Affordability, and the bill is scheduled for a public hearing before the committee on March 20 and an executive session on March 25. On March 5, the House passed HB 1219. On Feb 27, the House Committee on Finance held an executive session on HB 1493, but took no action. On Feb. 21, the Senate Committee on Ways & Means held a public hearing on the substitute bill for SB 5357. On March 18, the Rules Committee removed SB 5195 from consideration. (Link to bill summary for HB 1219 and link to bill summary for SB 5195, link to bill summary for HB 1493, and link to bill summary for SB 5357)
What it is: This bill would convert the state’s flat rate 1.28 percent real estate excise tax (REET) to a progressive rate and dedicate the resulting extra revenue to affordable housing. The lowest bracket (< $500,000 sale price) would drop to 0.75 percent, while the highest (> $7 million) would rise to 3 percent. Seventy percent of the revenue exceeding what would have been raised under today’s REET would go to the state’s Housing Trust Fund.
Why it is important: In addition to providing more funding for subsidized housing, the bill would also help affordability by shifting the tax burden from lower to higher income buyers and sellers.
Status: On Feb. 19, the House Committee on Finance held a public hearing on HB 1921. The Senate Ways & Means Committee will need to hold a hearing on SB 5582 and pass it for the bill to proceed. (Link to bill summary for HB 1921 and link to bill summary for SB 5582)
What it is: Under state law, cities can grant a property tax exemption on apartment buildings that offer 20 percent of their units at rents affordable to households earning 80 percent of the area median income. After 12 years the exemption expires and the subsidized homes return to market-rate rent. SB 5363 would extend the expiration for another 12 years. SB 5366 would expand the geographic reach of MFTE to include any city or town until July 1, 2022. UPDATE 3/1: The substitute bill for SB 5366 would go into effect on July 1, 2022 and expand the geographic reach of MFTE from July 1, 2022 to July 1, 2025.
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Why it is important: Across the state, 2,000 affordable homes created under the tax exemption are set to expire between 2019 and 2022. There are no downsides to extending the term and allowing more cities to participate.
Status: On March 12, the Senate passed SB 5363 and SB 5366 and both bills were referred to the House Committee on Housing, Community Development & Veterans. (Link to bill summary to SB 5363, and link to bill summary to SB 5366)
Increase the State Housing Trust Fund to $200 million
Note: this will be a budget request, not a bill. Washington’s Housing Trust Fund provides funding for affordable housing projects through a competitive application process, and since 1986 has invested $1 billion to help create 47,000 homes. In recent years, the state has allocated around $100 million per year to the Trust Fund. Doubling the funding would help address the growing shortage of affordable homes statewide.
Learn more: Housing Trust Fund home page.
More tenant protections
What it is: This bill would make is to extend the “pay or vacate” waiting period from three to 21 days (or to 14 days in the Senate version of the bill). Under current law, tenants have three days to pay delinquent rent before they become guilty of “unlawful detainment,” which sets in motion the formal eviction process. UPDATE 2/15: The House substitute bill compromises on waiting period, non-rent liability, and judicial discretion. UPDATE 2/18: The Senate substitute bill adds compromises on the notice period for rent increases, conversion to month-to-month lease, and damage documentation.
Why it is important: Granting tenants more time come up with late rent helps avoid the costly, complicated legal eviction process that even landlords often prefer to avoid.
Learn more: Eviction reform could change the game.
Status: On March 12, SB 5600 was officially referred to the House Committee on Civil Rights & Judiciary and the bill is scheduled for a public hearing on March 19 and executive sessions on March 26 and March 28. On March 9, the Senate passed the substitute bill for SB 5600. On March 8, HB 1453 was referred to the Senate Committee on Housing Stability & Affordability. On March 5, the House passed a substitute bill for HB 1453. (Link to bill summary for HB 1453 and link to bill summary for SB 5600)
Require 60 days notice for rent increases (HB 1440)
What it is: This bill would require landlords to provide tenants with 60 days written notice prior to any rent increase.
Why it is important: Rent hikes tend to be more common when housing is in short supply, and longer notice gives tenants breathing room to budget for the increase or make plans to move if necessary.
Status: HB 1440 is scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Financial Institutions, Economic Development & Trade on March 19. On March 8, HB 1440 was referred to the Senate Committee on Financial Institutions, Economic Development & Trade. On March 5, the House passed the substitute bill for HB 1440. (Link to bill summary)
Expand the Early Release Voucher Program (SB 5441)
What it is: Washington state’s early release voucher program gives temporary subsidies for rent to offenders who qualify for early release from prison. It promotes successful transition back into the community. The current program offers $500 per month for three months. The bill would extend that period to six months.
Why it is important: Those starting over after prison are among society’s most vulnerable to a lack of affordable housing. Extending the period to a full year would help even more.
Learn more: Early Release Voucher Program explainer.
Status: SB 5441 was referred to the House Committee on Public Safety, and the bill is scheduled for a public hearing on March 25. On March 12, the Senate passed SB 5441. (Link to bill summary)
Increase funding for the Housing & Essential Needs (HEN) Program by $69 million
Note: this will be a budget request, not a bill. Washington’s HEN program provides rent and utility payment assistance to extremely low-income people with physical disabilities or mental illnesses. High rents heighten the risk of homelessness for these vulnerable populations. HEN’s support keeps people housed as they transition either back to work or to Federal programs. The legislature has not raised HEN’s budget since it created it in 2011. High rents heighten the risk of homelessness for these vulnerable populations. HEN helps keep them housed as they transition either back to work or to Federal programs.
Learn More: HEN can be a “ticket out of homelessness.”
What it is: This bill would prevent landlords from evicting tenants without meeting defined standards just cause, and would also establish related tenant supports. The state bill is modeled after Seattle’s just-cause eviction ordinance, adopted in 1980, but offers generally stronger protections. UPDATE 2/15: The House substitute bill removes the prohibition on landlords evicting tenants without a court order, reduces the 21 day notice to 14 days, and removes eviction protections for tenants with disabilities and the elderly. UPDATE: 2/21: The Senate substitute bill extends the month-to-month termination notice from 20 to 50 days.
Why it is important: Eviction has devastating impacts on families and their communities. Hot real estate markets can raise the risk of landlords invoking unjustified excuses to evict tenants to make way for rent increases or renovations.