Washington State currently ranks dead-last in the number of home units – owned and rented – per family. But probably not for long: in an exceptionally successful legislative session earlier this year, the Washington REALTORS® promoted a raft of bills that will create a climate in which it is easier to build housing, and affordable housing in particular. They also fended off an attempt to increase the state real estate excise tax, which would have added to the cost of owning a home. Issues Mobilization Grants from the REALTOR® Party helped make these boosts for housing inventory and homeownership possible.
Washington REALTORS® Government Affairs Director Nathan Gorton credits the association’s
2023 President, Alisha Harrison, and Cheryl O’Brien, Vice President of Governmental Affairs, with leading the effort. “The lack of housing inventory contributes to all sorts of challenges in the state, from homelessness to out-of-control housing prices. Our ‘Welcome Home’ campaign was devised to encourage state legislators to focus the 2023 session on improving housing inventory, and Alisha and Cheryl worked tirelessly to promote the bills under consideration,” he says. The campaign’s television and online ads drummed up public support and assured the legislators of the REALTORS®’ support, leading to the passage of unprecedented pro-housing legislation, including:
- A ‘Right to Cure’ bill, giving developers the chance to correct any building defects in a condominium before a consumer can sue. As Gorton explains, “It had become very expensive to insure condos because of the number of lawsuits against them, but because they are such a strong category of affordable first-time homes, we didn’t want the supply to dwindle. Developers told us ‘If you want us to build, you’ve got get this passed.’”
- A bill requiring urban jurisdictions state-wide to allow homeowners to build up to two accessory dwelling units on their property.
- A bill allowing duplexes and triplexes in single-family zones. “This will go a long way to expanding housing inventory, especially the ‘Missing Middle,’” notes Gorton. “Duplexes, in particular, are a great first-time ownership prospect, with the potential rental income helping to pay the mortgage.”
- Three separate bills improving the permitting process, including speeding up timelines and codifying what issues can and cannot ‘stop the clock.’
Just when the REALTORS® were anticipating celebrating this slate of accomplishments, a dark cloud appeared at the end of the session in the form of proposed increases in both the state and local portions of the Washington State Real Estate Excise Tax. The stated intention was for the additional income to subsidize affordable housing projects, a concept that rankles Gorton’s sense of rationality and fairness: “Increasing the Real Estate Excise Tax to provide affordable housing is just maddening, as it effectively makes housing more expensive across the board,” he states. With another grant from the REALTOR® Party, Washington REALTORS fought the bill with a vigorous public campaign and call for action garnering a 20% response rate from members. The most effective tactic, notes Gorton, was a ‘door-belling’ effort that generated a flood of phone calls to legislative offices. “These guys can be pretty immune to the number of emails in their inboxes, but they can’t ignore constantly ringing telephones. The goal was to keep their offices from functioning. It was a very expensive way to get their attention, but if the excise tax was increased, we wouldn’t have a second chance. We’re lucky that NAR takes a dim view of the excise tax, too, and was willing to support the effort with an Issues Mobilization Grant.”
To learn more about how Washington REALTORS® are promoting legislation to improve the state-wide climate for building affordable homes, and opposing measures to increase housing costs, contact government Affairs Director Nathan Gorton at email@example.com or 360.561.7700.