If you rent or are looking to buy, you know there’s a housing crisis in the Puget Sound region. There simply are not enough homes and especially not enough homes that people can afford. This housing-supply shortage drives up prices, pushes older adults out of their homes and forces people to look for housing farther and farther from their jobs. According to a draft housing-needs assessment released by the Puget Sound Regional Council, an additional 810,000 homes are needed in our four-county region by 2050 so that current residents, newcomers and future generations may find a home that best fits their lives.

Everyone who lives here is familiar with the affordability crisis. Forty-nine percent of renters and 26% of homeowners in Washington are spending more than 30% of their income on housing. As advocates for small businesses and our region’s older adults, we are concerned about the damaging housing crisis that has long persisted in our region with no end in sight. That is why we are coordinating with a broad range of Puget Sound regional leaders, civic organizations, businesses, labor and nonprofits — a Coalition for More Housing Choices. Together, we are advocating for a broadly supported plan for new housing, founded on meeting the needs of current residents and our growing population, environmental stewardship, and an affordable and sustainable future for generations to come. More can — and must — be done.

This crisis disproportionately impacts communities of color — the Black homeownership rate in our region is about half that of white residents. Barriers to homeownership are in turn a major factor in perpetuating the wealth gap experienced by communities of color. 

If we do not implement change at the local, regional and state level, we will not find meaningful relief from this crisis. During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers provided funding for some important programs to address housing affordability and adopted some important policy changes intended to help address the housing supply shortage. However, the amount of real progress made by lawmakers did not meet the urgency of the current crisis.

The magnitude of our housing shortage requires more action. There must be collaboration on a spectrum of practical ideas meant to make it easier for current residents, newcomers and future generations to find homes of all types. Unfortunately, reasonable proposals to make it easier for property owners to build backyard cottages and basement apartments, also known as accessory dwelling units, failed to pass the Legislature. And bills offering broad packages of incentives for local governments to facilitate more affordable housing choices failed to advance. The failure of these promising proposals is unacceptable.

With many cities and counties now in the process of updating their comprehensive plans required by the Growth Management Act, local governments play a critical role in reducing barriers to allowing for homes of all types. Economic development and job creation must happen in collaborative coordination while encouraging and planning for more housing so that our region allows for all who live here — workers, businesses, retired seniors and future generations — the opportunity to thrive. Unfortunately, that has not been happening in many of our communities, and we can and should do more to ensure our region plans for both great jobs and a full spectrum of available housing choices.

Local governments should embrace this opportunity to be proactive in planning thoughtfully to allow more housing options, including affordable housing, in their communities. Local towns and cities should also work to successfully implement the Housing Action Plans that many are developing with grant funding from the Department of Commerce — an approach to bring much needed resources for the planning required to facilitate the development of more housing choices. Cities should look for opportunities to fully take advantage of the substantial investments by taxpayers in transportation infrastructure to expand much-needed housing alongside transit routes.

With the 2021 legislative session now behind us and a return to normalcy, safety and health now hopefully ahead of us, we will continue to work with state lawmakers, local policymakers and regional leaders to make our region more affordable. We are committed to advancing solutions so more people can find a home that best fits their lives now and as they age. This housing crisis existed before the pandemic, but the pandemic has made it far more acute and impossible to ignore. It is past time for our actions to reflect the urgency of the crisis.