OLYMPIA — As the affordable-housing crisis spreads beyond Seattle, Washington lawmakers this year took steps to spur building and improve laws for renters to help prevent them from becoming homeless.
They passed bills intended to reduce evictions and require landlords to give longer notice to tenants being told to move. Legislators approved proposals to make it easier for developers to build condominiums, and for cities to site tiny-house communities and encourage more density.
And the new 2019-21 state capital budget provided $175 million for the Housing Trust Fund, which goes toward building or maintaining affordable-housing units.
“All of this is the biggest stride we’ve taken, I’d say, as a package,” said Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, who worked on housing legislation this year. “But the problem is big.”
Senate Bill 5600 extends the eviction-notice period to two weeks, up from the current law of three days. Sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, it bans eviction for nonpayment of fees, and directs that payments go to rent before fees.
The bill, signed last week by Gov. Jay Inslee, also provides new authority to judges that would allow them to temporarily halt evictions based on factors like a tenant’s good-faith effort to pay.
“We have a problem with evictions being a leading cause of homelessness,” said Kuderer.
Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, said he worried that SB 5600 would make it harder for small landlords.
“People are going to leave this business,” said Barkis, who voted against the bill and had earlier sponsored a milder version of the concept. “We’re going to lose inventory, which is counterproductive to our supply problem.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers passed House Bill 1582, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Mia Gregerson of SeaTac that increases the eviction period for tenants in mobile-home parks to 14 days, up from five days currently.
Lawmakers also approved House Bill 1462, sponsored by Barkis, who works for a property-management firm. That bill requires landlords to give 120 days’ written notice to tenants if their housing is being torn down or undergoing major changes.
Democrats touted new money in the Housing Trust Fund, which provides loans and grants to entities like local governments, housing authorities, nonprofit organizations and federal-recognized tribes for affordable units.
But lawmakers in the coming years must go further to also spur more private construction, Barkis said.
“We’ve got to start investing beyond just the Housing Trust Fund for housing,” said Barkis. “We have to get to the cost drivers for building and development.”
Lawmakers passed at least one bill that might help on that front. Senate Bill 5334 changes liability laws surrounding condominiums that developers have said hampers construction of those units. Inslee signed that bill, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, late last month.
Legislators also approved House Bill 1923, sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-West Seattle. That bill gives incentives for cities with a population of 20,000 or more to add more density, like allowing accessory dwelling units or building multiunit housing near light-rail stations.
Inslee last week signed Senate Bill 5383, sponsored by Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup. One of the housing proposals rolled out last year by the GOP, it will allow cities to draft ordinances governing the creation of communities of tiny houses.
Despite this year’s progress, more will have to be done on homelessness and housing affordability, said Jim Baumgart, a policy adviser for Inslee. That includes helping local communities connect to sewer and water hookups, which can be an expensive process, he said.
“We’ve got a lot of work left to do,” said Baumgart, “and it’s going to be a lot of years of work on this.”