Legislative Committee - 2019 Session Update 

By Yorik Stevens-Wajda and Esther Larsen, Legislative Committee Co-Chairs, and Michael Shaw, Chapter Lobbyist

The Washington State Legislature began its 105-day 2019 session on January 14, 2019. The chapter’s Legislative Committee (LC) began its weekly telephone calls a few days prior to the start of the session and will continue weekly until the session is complete. With approximately 2,000 bills introduced so far, the chapter lobbyist and legislative committee have done their best to flag bills of interest and review their content against the chapter’s 2019 Legislative Priorities and APA’s policy guides.

LC members have sifted through and skimmed dozens of bills, and reviewed about a dozen bills in detail. The LC has increased its focus on housing topics, consistent with feedback received from chapter members over the summer (respondents to this summer’s legislative agenda outreach identified housing the most important policy area for the chapter’s advocacy efforts). The LC worked on the following housing-related bills in the first six weeks of the session, and will continue to monitor and engage on them through the session:

  • SB 5739 / HB 1790 extends the application deadline for a property tax exemption for multiunit residential housing projects in eligible rural areas from January 1, 2020, to January 1, 2025.
  • SB 5440 adds new requirements to housing elements, including quantitative analysis of housing needs by segment and defined programs and actions. Major provisions of this bill were folded into HB 1923 (see details below).
  • SB 5358 / HB 1377 adds a requirement that a city or county over 125,000 population planning under these chapters must allow an increased density bonus for a housing development on land owned by religious organizations that is exclusively for low-income households (<80% median family income) and open to all.
  • SB 5025 exempts facilitators of self-help housing (affordable housing that includes labor participation by the recipient) from the state portion of the sales tax.
  • HB 1033 provides new relocation assistance opportunities for tenants of mobile home parks that close.

One of the key housing bills of the session is SHB 1923 – an exciting and consequential bill which is likely to be the primary vehicle for housing and density legislation this session and does have a chance of passage. The bill, which is a work in progress, has passed out of House Committee on Local Government and has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee as of the writing of this article the bill. The LC is continuing to review and discuss the various provisions of the bill and will provide comments and suggestions to the sponsors and other key legislators. The substitute bill includes the following provisions:

  • For all jurisdictions: Impact fees may not exceed $50,000 for any single-family residential project, regardless of the number of units involved; Impact fees may not be assessed at a higher rate for multifamily units than single-family units.
  • For all cities:  Permanent supportive housing must be a permitted use in all areas where multifamily housing is permitted.
  • For cities above 10k population:  By December 31, 2021, affected cities must implement two of the following methods to increase housing capacity/facilitate housing development:
    • Allow 50 du/acre within ½ mile of rail transit stations
    • Require no more than 0.5 parking spots per unit in multifamily zones within ½ mile of rail transit stations
    • Allow duplexes, triplexes, or courtyard apartments in one or more single-family residential zones
    • Allow accessory dwelling units within all single-family zones
    • Allow duplexes on all corner lots within all single-family zones
    • Adopt a sub-area plan EIS pursuant to RCW 43.21C.420
    • Adopt a planned action pursuant to RCW 43.21C.440
    • Increase the number of SEPA categorical exemptions for residential development
    • Affected cities must also take one of the following methods to increase housing affordability:
      • Adopt an inclusionary zoning program in which at least 25% of the new development allowed/prompted by implementation of items from the menu above be for affordable housing (defined as rent or ownership costs plus utilities take no more than 30% of the income of a family earning 60% of the county’s median family income; about $1,300/mo rent or ownership cost plus utilities for a 3-person family in a 2 bedroom unit in Snohomish County)
      • Provide surplus property for affordable housing
      • Fund housing projects for very low-income (up to 50% of area median income) households through a housing levy
      • Implementation of the above menu items is exempt from SEPA appeal.
      • Affected cities that fail to implement the above menu items by December 31, 2022, would be required to modify requirements for housing elements:
        • Explicitly require quantified analysis of housing needs for all income levels (essentially codifies the recommended method in WAC 365-196-410 and other guidance)
        • Require a program to make sufficient sites available at multifamily densities available for development if the inventory demonstrates a lack of sufficient sites for low-, very low- and extremely low-income households
        • Include an eight-year schedule of implementation programs and actions, including incentives and funding for affordable housing (see definition above)
        • Include a review and evaluation of the previous housing element
        • Provide a zone in which emergency shelters are permitted without a discretionary review process
        • The Dept. of Commerce will be required to approve housing elements for cities that did not implement the menu items by Dec 31, 2022 after each periodic update

The LC has also worked on plenty of bills in other planning-related policy areas:

  • HB 1544 delays the effective date of urban growth area or LAMIRD expansions or resource land de-designations until any hearings board challenges are brought to a final decision and order.
  • SB 5151 requires the growth management hearings board to publish decisions and orders on an online searchable database and to publish all recent decisions by June 2020.
  • SB 5008 / HB 1690 increases the default threshold for short subdivisions from four lots to nine, and the optional local threshold from 9 lots to 30.
  • SB 5259, encourages tools (like simplified permitting) to support agricultural operations inside and outside of urban growth areas, re-establishes the voluntary stewardship option protecting critical areas on agricultural lands through 2020, and removes the requirement that nonagricultural accessory uses be located within areas already developed with buildings (the one-acre limit remains).
  • SB 5242 (dead) provides a route for smaller and slower growing counties that opted into the GMA to opt back out.
  • SB 5520 (dead) allows urban services to be extended beyond the urban growth area to protect health and safety or (instead of “and”) the environment.
  • HB 1233 (dead) revises best-available-science provisions for protecting critical areas to allow less-than-best science and expert opinion to be considered.
  • HB 1029 (dead) amends criteria for water quality certification and SEPA decisions to limit consideration of water quality impacts in some situations.
  • SB 5117 (dead) amends the essential public facilities provisions of the growth management act related to private detention facilities.

The first deadline in the 2019 Session Cutoff Calendar was Friday, 22, 2019, which was the last day to read in committee reports (pass bills out of committee and read them into the record on the floor) in the house of origin, except House fiscal committees and Senate Ways & Means and Transportation committees.  The next deadline is March 1, 2019, which is the last day to read in committee reports from House fiscal committees and Senate Ways & Means and Transportation committees in house of origin.  The last day to consider (pass) bills in the house of origin is March 1, 2019 (5 p.m.)  Ongoing deadlines dates are set forth in the 2019 Session Cutoff Calendar.

Annual Planning Conference and Review of Policy Guides

The Annual Planning Conference will be held in San Francisco, California beginning on Saturday, April 13, through Tuesday, April 16, 2019.  Included in the conference will be the opportunity for delegates from state chapters to meet, discuss and make decisions on three policy guides that are available through February 28, 2019, for review and comment.  The draft APA policy guides on equity, housing, and surface transportation were developed by APA members and approved by APA's Legislative and Policy Committee. These policy guides represent a lot of work by dedicated volunteers; the recommended policies aim to create just, healthy, and prosperous communities that expand opportunities for all; and they are used by your chapter’s legislative committee as a touchstone against which we review bills and express support or opposition, or suggest amendments, on behalf of the chapter.  Your participation in getting the policies right will help ensure that these three APA policy guides, representing crucial topics, reflect the breadth of member perspectives and move us closer to our shared vision of great communities.

Housing is a major focus of the chapter’s 2019 legislative priorities and the subject of numerous bills this session is housing, including discussion of policy problems and solutions.   The significance of that policy area on a national level is reflected in APA’s recent focus on developing solutions through the initiative Planning Home .

Join the Legislative Committee!

The legislative committee is always looking for chapter members who are interested in helping the chapter membership stay on top of state legislation and advocate for planning to make great communities happen. The committee starts each biennium somewhat fresh, so there is no better time to get involved and help shape the chapter’s advocacy efforts. Check out the committee’s website for more information and let Esther ([email protected]) or Yorik ([email protected]) know when you’re ready to get engaged and help our state thrive.

Return to the January/February issue of The Washington Planner