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Inslee signs several housing bills into law

Washington Governor Jay Inslee speaks Monday at a ceremony in Seattle at which he signed nine housing bills into law.
TVW screenshot
Washington Governor Jay Inslee speaks Monday at a ceremony in Seattle at which he signed nine housing bills into law.

The bills range from improving the climate for homebuilding to protecting renters from big increases in their housing costs.

Housing was one of the front and center issues on the Washington legislative agenda this year. More than 50 housing-related bills were introduced, according to legislative leaders.

On Monday, Governor Jay Inslee signed 10 of them into law, several sponsored by Olympia Democratic Representative Jessica Bateman.

“By signing these bills today, we are going to make it easier to build more housing of all shapes and sizes," Bateman said. "We’re going to streamline development regulations, the permitting process and design review so we can make it easier to build homes of all shapes and sizes and reduce the administrative burden. We’re also going to legalize accessory dwelling units, middle housing and condos so that people have choices for different types of affordable housing at their price point.”

The governor praised legislators for allocating a billion dollars for new housing, and for taking steps to make it easier for builders to add to the state’s inventory of homes.

“I want to make this clear. Homelessness is a housing crisis. Yes, we need to improve our mental health system and we are. Yes, we need to provide more drug treatment for people. But, fundamentally, we don’t have enough roofs for people to be under in the state of Washington," he said.

One of the high profile bills allows cities to change their zoning rules to allow for more small multi-family housing projects, especially in areas traditionally zoned for single-family homes.

He also signed legislation that makes it easier to create small living areas on residential lots, commonly known as accessory dwelling units. Other measures are aimed at changing permitting and other regulations that builders must comply with as they plan their projects.

Housing advocates, such as Bill Clarke from the Washington Association of Realtors, welcome the measures, but say they're just a starting point and that much more will be need to be done to improve the supply of housing.

“You’re not going to see an immediate explosion of duplexes or four-plexes, but over time, we will see more infill development," he said.

Dan Bertolet from the Sightline Institute in Seattle says lawmakers are catching on to ideas that he and others have been advocating for years.

“Everybody is aware that we have a huge housing shortage now, when, five years ago, maybe not so well known. The idea of reforming zoning rules at the state level was just this brand new idea five years ago. But now, states are doing it all over the country," he said.

Michele Thomas from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance praises the legislature for allocating $400 million for the state’s housing trust fund for projects that benefit residents at the low end of the wage scales. But she says several of the measures won’t help them at all.

“They did a lot for the for-profit industry. They did a lot for what developers and realtors wanted, in terms of making it easier for them to build the for-profit homes that are out of reach of most people that are hurting across the state. I don’t think they did enough for low-income people," she said.

One bill that wasn’t approved would create incentives for more dense housing around public transit corridors. Inslee says he will continue to advocate for that when lawmakers return to Olympia next year.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.