If you’re looking to rent or buy, you know there is a housing crisis in the Puget Sound area. There are simply not enough apartments and, above all, not enough apartments that people can afford. This housing shortage is driving up prices, forcing older people out of their homes and forcing people to look further and further away from their place of work. According to a draft housing needs assessment published by the Puget Sound Regional Council, our four-county region will need an additional 810,000 homes by 2050 to enable residents of today, newcomers and future generations to find a home that best suits their lives.
Everyone who lives here knows the affordability crisis. 49 percent of tenants and 26 percent of homeowners in Washington spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. As advocates for small business and the elderly in our region, we are concerned about the noxious housing crisis that has long been going on in our region with no end in sight. That’s why we’re coordinating with a variety of regional leaders, civic organizations, corporations, workers, and nonprofits from Puget Sound – a coalition for greater housing choices. Together we advocate a broadly supported plan for new housing based on meeting the needs of current residents and our growing population, protecting the environment, and an affordable and sustainable future for generations to come. More can – and must – be done.
This crisis is having a disproportionate effect on color communities – the black home ownership rate in our region is about half that of the white residents. Homeownership barriers, in turn, are an important factor in maintaining the wealth gap experienced by colored communities.
If we do not implement changes at local, regional and state level, we will not find any meaningful relief from this crisis. During the 2021 legislature, legislators funded some key programs to tackle housing affordability and passed some key policy changes to help address the housing shortage. However, the actual progress made by the legislature did not match the urgency of the current crisis.
The extent of our housing shortage requires more action. A spectrum of practical ideas needs to be worked on to make it easier for today’s residents, newcomers and future generations to find accommodation of all kinds. Sensible proposals to facilitate the construction of backyard huts and basement apartments, also known as secondary apartments, for property owners have unfortunately not passed the legislature. And bills that offered comprehensive incentive packages to local governments to facilitate more affordable housing made no headway. The failure of these promising proposals is unacceptable.
As many cities and counties are in the process of updating their comprehensive plans required by the Growth Management Act, local governments play a crucial role in dismantling barriers to the approval of housing of all kinds. Economic development and job creation must be carried out in cooperative coordination and, at the same time, more Housing must be promoted and planned so that our region offers the opportunity to thrive for all workers, companies, retired seniors and future generations who live here. Unfortunately, this has not happened in many of our communities, and more can and should be done to ensure our region plans both great jobs and a full range of housing options available.
Local governments should take this opportunity to be proactive in planning to enable more housing options, including affordable housing, in their communities. Local cities should also work to successfully implement the Housing Action Plans many are developing with Department of Commerce grants – an approach to allocating much-needed planning resources needed to facilitate the development of more housing options. Cities should look for ways to take full advantage of taxpayers’ substantial investments in transport infrastructure in order to expand much-needed housing along transit routes.
With the 2021 legislature behind us and hopefully a return to normalcy, safety and health 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 that more people can find a home that best suits their life now and in old age. This housing crisis existed before the pandemic, but the pandemic has made it far more acute and obvious. It is high time that our actions take account of the urgency of the crisis.