HB 1923 Removes Barriers to Building Affordable Housing

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Bill Rumpf, President of Mercy Housing Northwest

Mercy Housing Northwest is a nonprofit affordable housing developer operating throughout Washington. Bill Rumpf recently presented in a work session for the Senate Housing Stability and Affordability Committee on the impediments to building affordable housing.

As a nonprofit housing developer, I'm often asked how we can speed up the timeline or lower the cost of creating much-needed affordable homes. The reality is it can be difficult when operating under tight restraints. Local policies are a key factor in this, and HB 1923/Fitzgibbon represents an opportunity to spur more affordable housing by removing some of the key impediments and increasing local government planning capacity.

Mercy Housing Northwest builds and operates rental housing in many different jurisdictions statewide. We've experienced a variety of regulatory barriers that make it significantly more difficult to build affordable homes. Among many others, they can include:

  • Parking Requirements: We've seen zoning that required up to 1.8 parking spaces per apartment, allocating land and construction budget to house cars, rather than build more affordable homes.
  • Impact Fees: Water and sewer districts often represent a big burden.  In rehabbing a senior complex where we put in substantial energy and water-saving improvements, the local jurisdiction set water/sewer fees for 35 compact apartments that typically have just one resident each, at the same level as if we had constructed 35 single-family homes.  Our utility costs per unit at that site are among our highest in the state.

Conversely, Mercy Housing Northwest has worked with local jurisdictions who are role models for how to help solve the state's housing crisis. For example:

  • Bellingham halved the parking requirement on a new development located near the county transit center and waived roughly 80% of the impact fees.  This innovation was emulated by Skagit County, which has allocated state-authorized funding to pay for impact and utility hook-up fees on behalf of eligible housing projects.  This can save several hundred thousand dollars on a larger development.
  • In Tacoma and Seattle, public agencies have made land available for affordable housing near high-frequency transit. Combined with zoning to increase density in those locations, it has resulted in very efficient use of land.

HB 1923/Fitzgibbon is a creative approach. It encourages local jurisdictions to take action to increase density and reduce regulatory barriers like those above.  It provides a menu of options so that cities and towns can determine the approach that is the best fit for their local circumstances. Cities that opt to take advantage of these policies will be eligible for a $100,000 planning grant, funded by a $2.50 increase in the document recording fee. After five years, this funding will be used to pay for Operations and Maintenance of Permanent Supportive Housing for people earning up to 60% of the AMI.

I am excited to say that HB 1923 passed on the Senate floor on Saturday, 4/13, and will return to the House for concurrence before heading to the Governor’s desk. Assuming the bill receives a favorable final vote, we will need to let our local officials know the impact that the policies in this bill can have for low-income households. As always, thank you everyone for your advocacy!

 


 

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