Legislative Update - March 22, 2019

March 22, 2019

There’s only about five weeks remaining in the legislative session at this point, and we are continuing to track the twists and turns of our priority bills.

As we mentioned last week, HB 1923 is presently deconstructed and awaiting a hearing next Wednesday in the Housing Stability and Affordability Committee of the Senate.  The major provisions of the bill – increasing density and affordability in cities, and related updates to GMA Housing Element requirements – are still optional.  Their conversion from mandatory to optional was required in order to get the bill out of the House, so now the goal is to make an attempt at reconstruction.

At this stage, it’s difficult to predict the future of this bill, particularly given the bi-partisan scrutiny that it’s received in the last few weeks.  Futurewise and our advocacy partners are committed to reconstructing the bill and working to ensure that planning funds - which have a better than average chance of making it through the budget process – can be distributed to help ease the burden on jurisdictions that would have a lot of work to do if the bill ends up looking at all like the original. 

The cities, however, are now putting up roadblocks for the bill’s passage, mostly due to their heartburn over having to meet new requirements for housing.  And in case things weren’t confusing enough, developers and some republicans are interested in the bill as a way to leverage expansions of urban growth boundaries once minimum densities for infill development are in place.

Probably as a result of all this confusion, the Seattle Times put out on op-ed today (and no, we’re nor providing a link) stating that legislators shouldn’t get involved in city planning.  Maybe that’s true, but the Times and many others have also chided local governments like Seattle for taking too long to address density and affordability (now all of a sudden it’s there fault that it took so long?)  So if it’s not the state’s job, and local jurisdictions can’t do it, I guess the only responsible parties left are community members – and we know that wealthy communities only stand for “protecting” neighborhoods.

All of that said, maybe it’s time to take a step back and put all of this in context. HB 1923 should easily ride on the coattails of other successful effort like Seattle’s passing of Mandatory Housing Affordability and Minneapolis’ push to abolish single-family zoning several months ago – but in order to do that, we need to get back to our roots.  This bill is about housing for all people near jobs, transit and services.  It’s about reaping the rewards of those housing decisions in the form of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and protection of natural resource areas.  It will benefit workers, transit-riders, developers, cities, middle-income folks, low-income folks – both democrats and republicans.  Why is it so hard?