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Gone in 60 days: BIAW races to keep homes affordable

March 21, 2022

Much like the car thief played by Nicolas Cage in the 2000 movie, Gone in 60 Seconds, Gov. Inslee and majority party legislators had big ambitions, but not much time to achieve their goals during the 2022 session—and the stakes were very high.

Pre-session polling pressure

Historically, the political party in control of the White House loses seats in the off-year election. A pre-session Elway poll confirmed that trend in Washington state, as voter support for Democrats dropped from 52% in 2020 to 42% with Republicans gaining ground.

So faced with losing seats in this fall’s elections, Gov. Inslee, environmental interest groups and anti-housing Democrats entered the 2022 legislative session with their sights set on achieving as much as they could as fast as they could.

But the Governor and the anti-housing activists didn’t count on the opposition of BIAW members, our Government Affairs team and pro-housing legislators from both parties.  By the time the legislative session ended on March 11, BIAW and our partners had worked with Democrats and Republicans who support our pro-housing positions to block every bill on the Governor’s anti-housing agenda except one.

Threats to affordable homes

• Net-zero energy codes – DID NOT PASS
Builders already must meet current state requirements to be 70% more efficient by 2030. HB 1770 attempted to change the target and add new carbon reduction goals. New requirements in this bill would have added over $39,000 to the price of a home. This bill also died in the Senate.
• Net ecological gain standard in land use – DID NOT PASS
HB 1117 would have implemented a net ecological gain standard to development regulations, driving up costs for all homes connected to public infrastructure like water, sewer and power. This one also came to its final resting place in the Senate.
• Climate change in Growth Management Act (GMA) – DID NOT PASS
HB 1099 would have required certain GMA cities and counties to account for climate change in comprehensive planning – including a requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled. After vigorous debate, this bill died in the final minutes of the legislative session.
Job-killing ergonomics regulations – DID NOT PASS
In 2003, BIAW helped pass Initiative 841, directing the state Dept. of Labor & Industries to repeal its job-killing ergonomics rules. HB 1837 was an attempt to revive ergonomics rules, despite the voters’ will otherwise. This bill died in the Senate.
• Increased land use uncertainty for builders – PASSED
Unfortunately, BIAW wasn’t able to kill all the bad bills. After years of battle, SB 5042 made its way through the Legislature and to the governor’s desk. This bill erodes certainty for builders and puts land-use planning decisions in the courts.

Pro-housing bill passes

On the plus side, the Legislature approved one good housing bill.
• State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) reform – PASSED
SB 5818 makes some minor adjustments to SEPA in a positive way. Any time local government planning promoting housing is exempt from SEPA appeals, it saves time and money. SB 5818 eliminates SEPA appeals for local planning decisions that increase housing capacity or affordability. It also provides SEPA transportation and aesthetics appeals exemptions for residential, multi-family and mixed-use commercial projects in GMA cities. Finally, it prohibits local governments from requiring project applicants to submit SEPA checklists when the project is exempt under SEPA. All of this helps us build housing more people can afford.

BIAW Priorities

Sadly, two other priority BIAW bills had momentum during the session, but ultimately were not approved before sine die:

• High school graduation pathway options
A priority for our president Joseph Irons and the BIAW Workforce Development Task Force, HB 1162 would have expanded graduation pathways to include a performance-based pathway. This bill would have helped us develop a new pipeline for students interested in working in residential home building. Despite bipartisan support in the house, this bill died in the Senate.

• Streamlining local permit process reviews
SB 5964 aligned with our legislative priority to streamline and simplify permits to help cut the costs of home ownership. It exempted interior remodels from site plan reviews as long as the remodel didn’t alter the structure’s original footprint. This bi-partisan bill passed the Senate unanimously but died in the House.
While 2022 was a tremendously successful session for BIAW because we staved off a healthy number of bad bills, the truth remains: elections have consequences. Frustrated voters who can’t afford a home should remember this in November.

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