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August 2017

Realtors praise new law to make buildable lands reports more useful

A bi-partisan bill to address homelessness and improve the accuracy of buildable lands reports was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on July 6. It becomes effective on October 19.

The Washington REALTORS® Association was a strong proponent of the measure (SB 5254), which the Senate approved in a 47-2 vote and the House okayed by an 85-9 vote.

Unofficially known as the "Washington SHARES Act" (supporting housing affordability and real estate supply), the bill's supporters also included homebuilders, representatives of homelessness programs, rental housing groups, and other stakeholders concerned about statewide housing inventory shortages. Realtors note inadequate inventory hurts diverse groups, including renters to first-time homebuyers and homeless populations.

Earlier this year at a Senate hearing, Bill Clarke, public policy director at Washington REALTORS®, said the intent was to balance the Growth Management Act (GMA) and market rate housing issues with low-income and homelessness needs.

The bill contains changes to growth management planning to ensure sufficient buildable land is available. Other elements include a property tax exemption to preserve affordable housing for low income households, an extension of the document recording surcharge and flexibility of the use of the real estate excise tax for homelessness programs.

Of particular concern to builders and Realtors were provisions for clarifying what land is considered buildable under GMA's comprehensive plan updates.

Under the GMA, six counties (Clark, King, Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish and Thurston) are required to establish a Buildable Lands program to assess whether counties and cities are achieving urban growth within the urban growth area and produce reports.

The buildable lands report (BLR) compares actual growth and development with what was projected under the comp plans. To resolve discrepancies, affected counties and cities are required to improve the accuracy of the data.

Proponents of the bill believe its passage will yield greater accuracy of information used by various entities to plan for growth, along with better utilization of existing land supply and infrastructure to meet current and future housing demand.

In a statement advocating passage of SB 5254, Washington REALTORS® President Margo Wheeler Willis said, "Realtors are passionate about improving opportunities to own or rent a home so people have a decent roof over their heads. Realtors have worked tirelessly, many of us serving on affordable housing boards or as volunteers for non-profits, to clear obstacles to housing and resolve homelessness in our communities across the state. We believe this legislation will help do that, too."

The bill's sponsors were Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn; Sen. Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby; Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup; Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard; Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens; and Sen. Mark Mullet D-Issaquah.