With communities across Washington seeing higher rents and growing prices, both Democratic and Republican legislative candidates are talking about how Olympia can tackle the affordability crisis.
Washington state Rep. Dave Hayes gets a drumbeat of reminders these days about the lack of affordable housing in his district.
A Republican from Camano Island, Hayes says his son and daughter-in-law are paying $1,200 a month to live in a mobile home.
Hayes, a sergeant with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, says he sees young deputies moving in, sometimes from other states, who then have to pay $1,800 per month in rent.
And then there are the for-sale signs Hayes sees as he goes door to door in the 10th Legislative District, which includes Island County and parts of Skagit and Snohomish counties.
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“I’m seeing houses advertised that are going for $350,000 or more dollars,” said Hayes. “That’s unreachable for most people.”
Campaign talk about affording rents or mortgages is spreading beyond Seattle’s pricey metro area. Towns all over Washington have seen double-digit growth in home prices.
Meanwhile, the shadow of the property-tax plan lawmakers approved last year to fund K-12 schools hangs over the elections. That plan hiked statewide property taxes everywhere in 2018, though it ultimately will lower overall property taxes in many school districts in the coming years.
But now, it has voters — and candidates like Hayes and his opponent, Democrat Dave Paul — talking about what lawmakers can do from Olympia to help.
“As I’m out doorbelling, affordable housing comes up almost every day,” Paul said.
In Island County, the median resale price of a home is now $377,900, according to the Runstad Department of Real Estate at the University of Washington.
That’s a roughly $92,000 jump from the same time period three years ago.
Like some other Republicans, Hayes wants to see changes to parts of the state’s Growth Management Act and cuts in other regulations to make it easier to get new homes built.
And he wants lawmakers to find incentives to get towns to accept higher-density housing. Legislators, he said, “need to help them with that.”
Paul, a vice president at Skagit Valley College, was one of the Democratic candidates who won more votes in the August primaries against Republican incumbents who previously weren’t thought to be in jeopardy.
He wants to give more financial incentives to encourage building, provide more training for local officials in permitting processes, and create more partnerships between government and builders to figure out where new housing stock could go within towns.
In Whatcom County’s 42nd District, Bellingham resident and first-time Democratic candidate Justin Boneau is also making housing a part of his campaign.
In that county, the median resale price of a home this year has reached $385,000, about $90,000 more than the same time period in 2015.
Boneau said he decided to run because he felt that not enough lawmakers personally experienced the economic anxieties of trying to make ends meet.
“My rent’s gone up three times in two years,” said Boneau, who topped incumbent Rep. Luanne Van Werven, R-Lynden, in the August primary and will face her again this fall.
Boneau, a supervisor for a state Department of Ecology litter-cleanup crew, said it’s time to “re-evaluate the ban on rent regulation at the state level.”
In Southeast King County’s 47th District, Senate Republican Floor Leader Joe Fain of Auburn is among the legislators who wants to change the state’s liability laws that have been blamed for preventing the construction of more condominiums.
The condominium shortage has left some people renting when they could have had starter homes, he said.
“Getting that condo liability thing fixed will unlock the ability for young families to build the equity that they’ve really been robbed of the last few years,” said Fain.
Fain also said the Legislature must follow through on the bill he sponsored last year and lawmakers passed to make it easier to identify buildable land and fund homelessness and low-income housing programs.
His challenger is Mona Das, a Democrat who moved to Covington last year and owns a mortgage business that she said focuses on first-time homebuyers.
Das said she moved from Seattle because of the high costs there.
“People can’t afford Seattle; I found myself in that situation as well,” she said.
She wants condominium liability reform, as well as more money for affordable housing and zoning changes to increase density.
Housing prices are no longer just a Western Washington topic.
East of the Cascades, in the 12th Legislative District, independent candidate Ann Diamond says her communities also experience housing shortages.
That district includes Chelan and Douglas counties, and parts of Grant and Okanogan counties.
“In my valley, housing costs are going up three times faster than wages,” said Diamond, who sits on the Winthrop Planning Commission. “People are living in basements, sheds.”
The current median resale home price in Okanogan County, where Winthrop is located, is $201,700. That’s a 35 percent increase from the same time period in 2015, according to the UW’s Runstad Department of Real Estate.
If elected, Diamond would be the only independent in the Legislature, and said she doesn’t intend to caucus with either political party. She faces Republican Keith Goehner in November.
Diamond wants the state to boost the Housing Trust Fund, a state program that helps to build or preserve affordable-housing units. And she wants to find ways to coordinate with real-estate interests and municipalities to increase housing stock.
In the 6th District, which includes part of Spokane, Democratic state Senate candidate Jessa Lewis wants to cut property taxes, possibly through a tax on capital gains.
Lewis argues that the property-tax plan to fund schools hits not only homeowners, but is passed on to renters, too. “And I absolutely am going to be fighting to reduce property taxes,” she said.
Like everywhere else in the state, property owners in the Spokane School District saw a tax increase for 2018. But overall property taxes funding schools are expected to drop in the coming years.
In November, Lewis will face current Rep. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, who is giving up his seat to run for Senate. Holy beat Lewis by about four percentage points in the August primary.