Helping Washingtonians access the American Dream
Last updated 3/18/2021 at 11:32am
The 2021 legislative session is more than halfway over, and there are still a host of issues vying for the attention of lawmakers and the public. From the governor’s emergency powers to legislation strengthening our DUI laws, debate has been passionate and the consequences have been high.
With so much going on, it’s easy to lose track of one the biggest issues of the pre-COVID era — the lack of affordable housing — unless you are one of the families facing the housing crunch.
Homeownership is at the core of the American Dream for a reason. According to Nadia Evangelou with the National Association of REALTORS, “homeowners and children of homeowners are generally happier and healthier than non-owners, even after controlling for factors such as income and education levels.”
Furthermore, she found a lower crime rate among homeowners and people living in a stable housing environment, as well as better educational and behavioral results among the children of homeowners.
Clearly, homeownership has a stabilizing effect on individuals, families and communities, which is why government should be doing all it can to make homeownership more achievable, not less.
That is why I introduced Senate Bill 5024, a measure to help increase the supply of affordable housing by removing barriers to condominium construction.
Right now, the cost of a condominium unit can be as much as $200,000 more than the cost of an identical unit that happens to be a townhome, due solely to the additional inspection costs required for condominiums.
Under SB 5024, condominiums with 10 or fewer units and with no more than two stories would be exempt from the costly requirement to submit building enclosure design documents and obtain periodic inspections throughout the course of construction.
If approved, it would also allow funds deposited for the purchase of a unit to be used for construction costs, under certain conditions.
The measure is the result of years of work, which originated with a 2018 work session held by the Senate Law and Justice Committee to address the state’s inadequate supply of new condominiums. Since that time, the problems of affordable housing, homelessness, and a lack of new construction have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spokane homebuilder Jim Frank, who testified on the bill when it was before the Law and Justice Committee, said he has been focused on working within the community to provide more affordable-housing options for families in need.
“The costs can be prohibitive if you are trying to provide affordable housing,” said Frank.
Eddie Chang, a realtor, told the committee that home pricing for first-time homebuyers is out of reach for most people in Washington. “The cost of land has increased to a point where even the most basic run-down home is unaffordable for a first-time homebuyer,” Chang testified.
“The only way to create enough inventory is to produce more small wood-framed condo buildings.”
Unfortunately, as Chang explained, many of these smaller projects are just not financially viable, when buyers are forced to put deposits into escrow while the building is under construction.
SB 5024 would allow the builders to access these deposits for construction purposes, while still protecting the buyers with a surety bond. This would make more projects feasible and ultimately help create more homeownership opportunities.
The bill passed the Senate 37-12 back in January and is currently scheduled for hearing before the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee, where I hope it will find similar bipartisan support.
With just weeks left in a very busy legislative session and a lot of work still left to get done, it is vital that we remember the families who are seeking more opportunities to get their piece of the American Dream.
Sen. Mike Padden represents the 4th Legislative District, which encompasses the Spokane Valley.