Historic Progress in Housing

Friends and neighbors,

I had an incredible time speaking with and more importantly – listening – to our community members about the importance of tax reform and what an equitable tax structure can look like. I appreciate your perspectives and am always honored to learn more about your thoughts on the issues that matter most!

Rapidly Rising Housing Costs

The housing crisis is hurting people in every city and county in Washington. We are all feeling it. The solution to this problem isn’t easy but it is clear. We must increase supply, stabilize rent and housing costs, and support those who are still unable to afford housing.

Washington is short between 150,000 and 250,000 housing units and we are not currently keeping pace.  This is causing housing costs to skyrocket. We need to diversify and expand our housing supply. Last session, we tackled this problem by passing bills that make it easier to build:

  • House Bill 1110 allows more diverse housing options, especially in our larger communities. Housing options like duplexes and fourplexes can blend into the nature of our neighborhoods and help us provide more housing for middle-income families.
  • House Bill 1337 requires cities and counties to allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in urban growth areas (UGAs). This important bill also prohibits certain regulations that hinder ADU construction.

Additionally, we passed some creative solutions to help speed up permitting and building of housing in existing vacant buildings. I also want to highlight a huge step forward we made in housing equity. House Bill 1474 establishes a covenant homeownership account and program, which will provide down-payment and closing cost assistance for certain historically marginalized groups with income limitations who are also first-time homebuyers. This bill helps address past practices of discrimination and systemic racism in the real estate industry.

Finally, we should celebrate a historic investment into the Housing Trust Fund, which helps us build deeply affordable housing across the state. In the last state construction budget, we invested $400 million into the Housing Trust Fund. This is a historic investment, and not enough. I will be looking for ways to increase housing investment in future budgets.

Tenant Protections

While Washingtonians wait for new housing to be built, many remain renters who continue to face steep rent increases and a lack of statewide tenant protections. This year, we worked to pass House Bill 1074 to protect tenants from having their security deposits unjustly withheld. The legislation also provides landlords 30 days to submit a statement documenting damages and justifying the retention of all or a portion of the deposit.

Next January, I look forward to continuing to advocate for rent stabilization. According to the Census Bureau, nearly 500,000 Washingtonians have been displaced over the last six months as a result of astronomical rent increases. We know that for every $100 that rent increases, there will be a 9% increase in homelessness in an area.

Thanks to an article by ProPublica, we have a good grasp as to why this happened. Many of the larger, corporate landlords used a product from a company called Realpage. Allegedly, this product artificially raised rental rates and even went as far as encouraging landlords to leave units vacant rather than rent them for lower rates.

There is a lawsuit in front of a federal court in Tennessee that is looking to bring some accountability to this matter, but the lesson is clear. There are corporate landlords who will do everything they can to jack up rental rates. This hurts mom and pop housing property owners who are trying to do right by their tenants by keep their rental increases more modest. These property owners struggle to keep up when corporations are inflating rental rates statewide.

It also hurts renters but creating unsustainable and unlivable rental rates. This is a huge part of our increase in homelessness in our state. That is why we need to move on rent stabilization and bring some balance to housing market.

Last session we made monumental strides in addressing the housing crisis. However, we still have a lot of work to do, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to making sure all Washingtonians have housing options available to them.

Thank you,

Rep. My-Linh Thai