Rep. Keith Goehner: Affordable housing crisis needs new, real solutions

As a member of the House of Representatives Local Government Committee, I clearly see our state’s affordable housing crisis, a culmination of housing policies that were built on good-intentioned legislation with poor results. Meanwhile, our state’s population continues to grow. Over the years, the Legislature has passed bills related to the Growth Management Act (GMA), zoning requirements, and building codes that impose more obligations and negatively impact housing in Washington state. 

Every year we see incremental changes, layering on more and more laws that control property, without much consideration for the additional cost those changes add to the price of the finished product and completed buildings. Yet, constructive changes to the GMA and land use laws have been rejected.

When the GMA was passed into law in 1990, it was to be used as a mechanism for local governments to plan for growth and allow them to be the decisionmakers on the future of their communities. That has never fully materialized. Now, lawsuits and outside interests are influencing Olympia and how local governments and communities are allowed to develop across Washington state.

This top-down, one-size-fits-all approach carries with it 30 years of failed policies. We are no better off after all of these years. The policy choices have not fully considered the additional burden put on the cost of home ownership in our communities. We continually saw more costly policy this year. Bills coming through the Local Government Committee proposed or created additional stringent standards. They may be well-intended but are not pragmatic solutions to our housing crisis – affordable construction is not possible with public policy which heavily burdens the market.

For example:

  • HB 1770, from the governor’s office, envisions an energy code that would reduce energy consumption in buildings by 80%. The details on how that would happen are delegated to state agencies. To make such significant reductions in energy consumption would substantially drive up the cost to build homes at a time when we want to address our affordable home crisis, not put up more barriers. Fortunately, while this bill did pass the House, it did not make it out of the Legislature.
  • HB 1660 would have allowed property owners to place more accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on property within urban areas. Yet, it authorizes restrictions to prevent ADUs being used as short-term rentals. The state is dictating how private property owners should be able to use their property. Like HB 1770, it passed the House, but did not get through the Legislature.

It has been reported the state is 250,000 units short of keeping up with the housing needs. These are examples of policies that do nothing to address that need or address the failure of the GMA. Continued tweaks by the state does not get us there.  

Solving the affordable housing crisis cannot be done overnight. However, adjusting our approach to the crisis should.  This session, House Republicans introduced proactive and practical legislation to increase opportunities for more affordable housing options in communities across Washington state.

We introduced legislation that would have:

  • required cities and counties planning under the GMA to include single-family residences such as detached dwellings, duplexes, triplexes, and townhomes in urban growth areas (UGAs) in the housing element of the comprehensive plan.
  • encouraged construction of affordable housing by eliminating redundancies and streamlining the permitting process.
  • removed consideration of adverse environmental impacts that come with infill. This removes a procedural step which is likely duplicated in the project environmental impact review.
  • allowed water, sewer, and storm water to be extended into areas that no longer have “rural character” based on community needs.

Our affordable housing crisis is driven by land use and housing policies that have ultimately made it more difficult for property owners and builders to develop land at price points that most families and young people in our communities can afford. Citizens in Washington state deserve safer, more affordable communities. The best way to do this is to reduce the complexity of building a home, not increase it.

Rep. Keith Goehner serves as the ranking Republican on the House Local Government Committee.

State Representative Keith Goehner, 12th Legislative District
122B Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7954 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000