By Kate Snyder
Since two years ago when the Washington Legislature changed the way communities are required to plan for housing, municipalities have been grappling with how to do so. In 2021, House Bill 1220 created new requirements under the state’s Growth Management Act, which was originally designed to encourage the establishment of affordable housing. The new criteria involves instructing local governments to “plan for and accommodate” housing that is affordable to all income levels, and earlier this year, state officials released projected housing needs per county by 2044.
In total, the analysis released by the state shows that Washington needs approximately 1.1 million housing units in the next two decades. In the breakdown by county, the report shows that
Snohomish County’s total housing needs is 143,182 units, Pierce County’s total is 135,652 units, Clark County needs 103,475 units and King County’s total projected housing needs is 336,591 units.
“Certain faster growing communities will be using these projections to update their comprehensive plans and regulations over the next few years,” the report states. “Counties, cities and towns then must work together to decide how to plan for and accommodate housing to meet the needs of each income bracket, and ensure enough emergency housing can be sited.”
As part of an effort to incorporate the requirements of HB 1220, King County recently released a draft of the county’s update to its 20-year comprehensive plan. According to the findings in that report, King County has a total of 952,344 housing units, with 89,296 units in unincorporated areas. Approximately half of housing units in King County are single-family homes. In unincorporated areas of the county, less than 10 percent of housing units are from multifamily properties.
Additionally, the greatest disparity between the number of households and units available in King County is for incomes at or below 30 percent of the average median income: there are 81,250 households with incomes less than or equal to 30 percent AMI in King County but only 22,235 units that are affordable and available to that population.
Recently, Seattle officials have been focusing on establishing more affordable housing for low-income residents.
Earlier this month, Seattle officials announced an investment of more than $7.5 million in funding of proposals for 72 new affordable housing units as part of the Rainier Valley Affordable Homeownership Initiative. The new housing would serve homebuyers with incomes at or below 80 percent area median income in the Rainier Valley community. The Seattle Office of Housing published four requests for proposals from developers to build permanently affordable for-sale homes to homebuyers on four properties located in the Rainier Valley area. The projects selected include eight three-bedroom units at 7908 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., 30 one- and two-bedroom units at 6740 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., 31 one- and two-bedroom units at 3601 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. and three four-bedroom units at 4865 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S.
Seattle voters will also decide in the fall whether to approve a $970 million housing levy that is designed to support the development of more than 3,100 units of new affordable housing throughout the city, including both rental and homeownership opportunities. According to an announcement from Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, in total, the 2023 Housing Levy is expected to serve more than 9,000 low-income individuals and families by building diverse options for affordable housing throughout Seattle and providing direct assistance to prevent homelessness.
Mayor Harrell also announced new legislation supporting efforts to increase production of affordable housing by streamlining the design review process and decreasing the amount of time to complete new housing projects. The proposal would provide a permanent exemption for affordable rental housing from the design review process – focused largely on building aesthetics – and go further to expand this exemption to affordable home ownership projects. Temporarily allowed during the COVID pandemic, the exemption improved production speed and decreased costs, according to proponents of the legislation, without losing essential permitting processes related to land use, building code and health and safety.