Across Washington state, across the income spectrum, across all life stages, and across renters and buyers — people are not getting the housing they need.
As leaders of three of the largest business advocacy organizations in the Puget Sound region, we urge legislators to advance legislation to increase the supply of middle housing.
We hear regularly from our members that they are struggling to attract and retain workers because of the cost and scarcity of housing. Employers want their workers to be able to live within a reasonable distance of their job site. Business leaders want to make sure that the next generation — including their own children — can grow up, stay here close to family, and take part in our region’s amazing economy and the prosperity we enjoy. The problem is simple: We don’t have enough housing options.
Some municipalities have taken steps to close the gap, like subsidies for building new housing, preservation of existing affordable housing and adding density downtown and around high-capacity transit.
Seattle in 2019 allowed taller and denser buildings in some Seattle neighborhoods in exchange for affordable housing units and allowed for additional housing to be built on a small portion, about 6%, of land currently zoned for single-family residences.
Tacoma has revised its multifamily program, seeing more than 1,500 new units in the last three years and another 5,500 units in development over the next three years.
Snohomish County has made significant reforms to accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and detached accessory dwelling units in unincorporated areas of the county to allow two ADUs to be constructed per urban lot, elimination of owner-occupancy requirements and no parking requirements in urban areas. The county’s affordable housing program will build 522 units of affordable housing over the next four years.
Despite this, these steps are not enough to meet the scale of the statewide problem.
We know from public opinion research that voters support more housing including more types of housing, such as duplexes and triplexes, in their neighborhoods. In Seattle alone, 67% supported building new housing in their neighborhood, including 63% specifically for duplexes and triplexes, according to our 2022 poll. They also support more buildings around transit in their cities. People want vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, and that only happens when people across the income spectrum can afford to live there. The inability to afford a home means our middle- and low-income families, often families of color, lose out on the opportunity to build assets and pass them down to future generations — keeping a cornerstone for building an equitable economy out of our reach.
We know every city in our region is unique and each neighborhood celebrates its own character. We care about that and want to preserve it. As business advocates who have worked on these issues in government, we know land use and development policy is complicated — it is hard to make progress. However, we will lose future generations of talent, future innovators and future leaders, as well as much needed teachers, nurses and entrepreneurs to communities where housing is more affordable if we don’t see progress soon.
To meet this challenge, we must begin in the middle.
There is no silver bullet when it comes to affordability; changing housing policy isn’t doing one thing and then dropping the mission accomplished banner. Increasing middle housing means upzoning on a much broader scale — legalizing fourplexes statewide, incentivizing sixplexes within reach of transit. It also means reducing barriers to building the supply of homes we need and expanding the options people have for homes. We’ve seen progress being made in some places, but it is not meeting the scope and scale of the problem. Therefore, the best way to accomplish what we all say we want — more housing — is to set a framework statewide. That will ensure cities will have a base for the housing they need and flexibility to deliver that in a way that works for their community.
These are transformative policy changes that will keep Washington competitive and deepen our diversity for the long-term. A growing, bipartisan coalition of supporters for these changes has emerged, including business leaders, housing advocates, Republicans and Democrats. As leaders of three of the largest Chambers of Commerce in Washington, we join with this coalition to lift the voice of the employers, workers, neighbors, friends and community members we talk to every day, and tell legislators: The coalition is broad, the time is now and we strongly urge your action.
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