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Too Few Housing Units Built in Washington for Demand

Posted by Tom Covello on Wednesday, February 19th, 2020 at 10:22am.

Not enough housing has been built in Washington to meet in-migration and job growth, which has fueled home price and rent escalation, longer commutes as people drive farther for affordable housing, and lower quality of life, according to a January report that calls for more high-density housing walkable to transit corridors and other amenities. More high- and medium density housing and fewer single-family homes would improve lifestyles, the environment, Gross State Product (GSP) and tax revenues, it projected.

The report, Housing Underproduction in Washington State: Economic, Fiscal, and Environmental Impacts of Enabling Transit-Oriented Accessible Growth to Address Washington’s Housing Affordability Challenge, was authored by Up For Growth, a national nonprofit.

The housing problem is especially acute in King and Snohomish counties, where only 0.65 units of housing were built per new household between 2010 and 2017, according to data in the report. A functioning housing market needs to produce at least one new housing unit for each new household formed, the report says, noting the national ratio has been about 1.1 housing units per new household since 1960.

The report also notes that King County added 3.33 jobs for every new housing unit during from 2010-17, the highest imbalance between job growth and housing unit production in the state. Snohomish added 2.12 jobs per new housing unit.

“In counties with large imbalances, rents and home prices have rapidly increased and have even surpassed the previous housing bubble’s peak prices,” the report said. “If these ratios worsen in the short run, substantive policy interventions may be necessary to bring the ratio of jobs-to-units back into longer-term equilibrium.”

From 2000 to 2015, Washington underproduced housing by about 225,600 units, about 7.5 percent of the total 2015 housing stock, creating a supply and demand imbalance reflected in the housing and homelessness crisis in myriad communities, the report said.

The report also notes too little housing produced for low- and moderate-income households, those making 80 percent or less of area median incomes (AMI). Since 2000, Washington underproduced 181,000 rental units for this category, accounting for 80 percent of the total housing units underproduced from 2000 to 2015.

In King County, the underproduced units were equivalent to about 61 percent of all renter households earning less than 80 percent of AMI, and 42 percent in Snohomish County, which demonstrates the need for more rental units available to households earning less than 80 percent of AMI in the state’s most populous areas, the report said.

Currently, housing development is allocated roughly 4 percent to high density residential apartment towers; 29 percent to “missing middle” (accessory dwelling units, duplex, triplex, and quad homes, or courtyard-style apartments) and medium density (podium apartments); and 67 percent to low density single-family homes. This is what the report calls a “more of the same growth pattern.”

If an “accessible growth pattern” were used instead, those 225,600 units could be divided into 38 percent high density, 54 percent medium density, and 8 percent low density, the report said. That would use 12 percent of the land to produce the same number of units, and with developments closer to transit and employment centers, could reduce vehicle miles traveled by up to 36 percent. That kind of development pattern also could increase GSP by $25 billion over 20 years and generate an additional $660 million in state revenue (via sales, business and occupation taxes), the report said.

The accessible growth approach prioritizes building housing near transit and “job-rich but housing-poor areas,” Up For Growth said on its website in prefacing the report. “Such an approach could be achieved by increasing and expanding funding for affordable housing, zoning reforms, regional planning and accountability, and public-private partnerships.”

Up For Growth adds, “The report makes it clear that Washington is indeed experiencing a severe shortage of housing for people of all income levels. Solving it will require leadership and the state and local levels, as well as the private sector.”

~425 Business

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