Anti-density sentiment drives construction costs on new housing.
REGIONALLY, one of the biggest challenges we face today is ensuring that our housing supply can continue to meet our needs as populations grow. How can we help working families live near job centers and avoid exhaustive commutes to and from affordable neighborhoods?
With our limited land supply, this is only going to become more difficult as the economy continues to expand. Unfortunately, local attitudes about growth and development often act as roadblocks to meeting the demand for housing.
Local resistance to growth presents itself in planning commissions as well as city and county councils all the time, often by small but vocal groups. These anti-growth sentiments can push local decision-making in favor of measures designed to slow, limit or outright stop new home construction altogether.
In Seattle, anti-density sentiments helped spur costly regulations on micro-housing as well as proposed rules to restrict housing in the city’s low-rise zones. Collectively, these decisions can undermine our region’s ability to direct housing toward urban areas and create much needed “infill” development. This ultimately prices working families out of the market and leads to sprawl, which is exactly what the state’s Growth Management Act is designed to contain.
A new study from the National Association of Home Builders provides compelling reasons why local governments should be working to accommodate new growth and back infrastructure investments needed to support it. The NAHB study estimates that building 6,500 homes in King and Snohomish counties — the number of single-family homes built in these two counties last year — would in one year generate:
• $2.1 billion in local income
• 24,759 local jobs
• $314.7 million in taxes and other revenue for local governments
Though the study didn’t include multifamily homes, the NAHB recently released another report showing the typical local benefits of building rental apartments, and their contributions are substantial as well. Not only does housing address a basic human need, it is a major economic driver that benefits our entire region by helping to fund valuable local services, including schools, parks and more. These findings underscore the fact that a healthy housing industry goes hand-in-hand with a strong economy and vibrant community.
The report also highlights the ongoing annual local impacts of homebuilding in King and Snohomish counties that result from new homes being occupied, via occupants paying taxes and otherwise participating in the local economy.
The NAHB analyzed the costs to local governments to service these new homes, and compared those costs to the revenue generated. The results are intended to answer the question of whether or not residential development pays for itself. The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” In fact, it does so by the end of the first year. After 15 years, the homes will generate a cumulative $1.5 billion in revenue compared to $665 million in costs.
This information is timely because King, Snohomish and Pierce counties and their cities are at various stages in the process of reviewing and updating their comprehensive plans. Required by the Growth Management Act, these plans serve as a blueprint for accommodating anticipated population and job growth over a 20-year time frame. Instead of resisting our region’s expected growth and enacting policies that subtract from our very limited buildable land supply, local governments should work within their communities to expand housing supply and choices for families.
Studies like the NAHB report offer an important reminder of the positive aspects of new home construction to help make our communities vibrant places to live. Ultimately, building homes is about building communities. Not only does home construction strengthen our local economy and create jobs, it offers families a community of connectedness, safety and a place to call home.