State legislators should pass a bill to help struggling renters stay in their current homes.
SEATTLE is not the only city in the Puget Sound area experiencing soaring rents and a shortage of affordable housing. This is a regional trend that state senators were trying to remedy last week by passing a pragmatic bill to encourage more landlords to engage in finding solutions.
While a recent influx of jobs is welcome, the reality is everyone is not earning white-collar wages. Many people’s incomes are not exactly keeping up with the increased cost of living. So when working-class families must spend more than 30 percent of their take-home pay on housing, it means they are less likely to afford other basic needs.
A 2015 study by the state Affordable Housing Advisory Board estimates that 15 percent, or more than 390,000 households in Washington state are “severely cost-burdened.” In other words, they are on the verge of homelessness.
Sponsored by state Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, SSSB 6239 now heads to the House, where members should pass it without delay. The legislation would allow any city or county government in Washington to adopt a property-tax exemption program that aims to preserve existing housing for the lowest-income households.
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Landlords could apply for a 15-year exemption if their properties meet a minimum set of requirements and they set aside at least 25 percent of units at affordable prices.
The property-tax break is generous, but the bill gives local governments the flexibility to increase the affordable unit threshold and to adjust income requirements.
SSSB 6239 has bipartisan support in the Senate and from city leaders throughout King County. The bill is inspired by one of the 65 ideas presented in the city of Seattle’s 2015 Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda.
It’s a good policy that incentivizes landlords to help renters stay in existing homes while additional buildings are constructed and the region pursues other solutions.