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News Release: New report shows every county in Washington plagued by housing shortage

July 17, 2023

OLYMPIA…Washington faces a housing shortage. Depending on the source, estimates range from 140,000 to 1 million housing units. No matter the source, one thing is true: Washington needs more homes for its residents.

The Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) used the same methodology as FreddieMac to land on its estimate of at least 251,894 new housing units to meet current demand for housing. BIAW’s newest report, Washington’s Housing Supply Shortage, details the state’s housing supply shortage by county.

Housing shortage by county

It’s no surprise that Washington’s most highly populated counties made the list of the top five counties with the biggest housing shortages.

  • King County needs more than 76,364 units to meet the current demand of its 902,308 households.
  • Pierce County’s short 28,212 units.
  • Snohomish County needs 25,371 units.
  • Spokane County needs 17,589 units.
  • Clark County needs 15,703 units.

The report also ranks counties according to the percentage of the population that needs housing.

The top three counties with the most acute housing shortage are:

  • San Juan County at 12.8%
  • Pacific County at 12.5%
  • Pend Oreille County at 10.9%

Permitting lags

Despite the obvious need, local governments only processed 49,033 building permits for new housing units in 2022. Factoring in the attrition rate from permits for starts to completions, BIAW estimates only 45,846 of the units permitted made it to market. The report breaks down new permits issued by county as well.

“At this rate, it will take five and a half years to catch up to current demand, assuming no new inward migration or population growth,” said BIAW Executive Vice President Greg Lane. “This is why permit and zoning reforms were so critical during the 2023 legislative session.”

Successful legislative session provides hope, more work needed

BIAW successfully worked with state legislators during the 2023 session to pass a number of bills to help speed permitting, streamline the processes and clear some regulatory roadblocks, but more work remains.

“Because the housing supply crisis has escalated the last 10 years, now 80 percent of Washington households can’t afford to purchase a median-priced home,” Lane said. “Policymakers need to ensure that more than just 20 percent of families can purchase homes in Washington. And that can only be addressed by increasing supply and reducing regulation.”

The report recommends policymakers consider the following strategies to help spur more residential development in their communities:

  • Reform project approval processes.

    Stakeholder and community engagement are important but should be balanced with the need to build more housing units. Allowing citizen activists to stop housing projects with ‘Not in my Backyard’ arguments should be balanced against the community’s need to provide housing for all.

  • Accelerate the permit process.

    Planning departments should consider expediting new housing construction permits. Whether that is creating a separate permitting process for some housing types (like the ‘missing middle’ structures) or investing in automated software to reduce time spent passing papers between hands, any innovations that help streamline the process would help increase housing starts and completions.

  • Reassess the effectiveness of impact fees.

    It’s fair to assess reasonable impact fees to offset the cost of the infrastructure it takes to support more citizens. However, these fees vary between jurisdictions. Moderate to high impact fees can affect whether a housing developer builds new housing in jurisdiction. BIAW recommends considering impact fee deferrals or reductions to increase housing construction.

  • Review design standards and building codes.

    Design standards and building codes that go above and beyond protecting the health and safety of occupants should be scaled back until the housing supply imbalance recovers. Dictating the materials and appliances that must be used in the construction of housing only increases the cost of new homes, pricing out families from the right to shelter themselves.

“There is no single silver-bullet solution,” Lane said. “We recommend all of these strategies to combat the massive shortage of homes available for Washingtonians as soon as possible.”

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