A closer look at King County’s ongoing housing crisis | Guest column

By Kathy Lambert

Housing is so important to quality of life. Affordability of that house is more important as we see the increase in taxes and costs.

Do we all know the complete facts on the Growth Management Act (GMA)? Most people do not realize that it requires affordable housing for all income levels. It is clear that is not happening.

When I served on the King County Council, I reminded the council many times about the fact that the law is not being fully implemented — only parts that they “liked.” Having just worked with several family members to get into a home, I know this is very discouraging. I heard a radio show with Millennials saying they do not believe homeownership will ever be in their future. This situation should not continue.

So what can be done? First, we should not be looking for much of the affordable housing to be government housing or supportive housing. Instead, we should be looking at creative financing options to help people purchase their homes.

How can this be? Lease to own is one example so people can get into housing and potentially be able to continue on without having to do a large down payment. I realize many builders feel that the condo liability changes in state law are still too broad for them to be able to offer that product.

Another idea is that we need to be creating more condos so people can start out in smaller homes and build up their equity to get into larger homes as their family grows or as their work-from-home needs change. There are other ideas in working with banks and investors on new financing packages. We had a bank several years ago that was willing to work on a new financing structure. So I know it is possible. The Washington State Legislature has a great impact here too as the builders have said the condo liability laws are so restrictive that they will not build them. Looking at a workable compromise there is vital. This issue has lingered for several years.

While regulations may be helpful, such as the new one to add charging stations to units over a certain size, that adds more costs. There are always more and greater ideas, but where does this balance with having affordable housing for everyone who wishes to purchase?

The timing on getting a permit adds greatly. Building permits for the county were based on time spent on processing, and it takes a long time. As a councilmember, I worked to get that changed to a flat fee so there was a predictability in cost. One friend told me he has taken eight months to get a permit and expects his home to take three months to build. This is not an unusual story here. Plus the permitting department was so understaffed that some big companies paid more to have added staff do the work. In addition, the county has one department working on tree regulations and those decisions have to go to permitting to be approved. So one idea is to have the county arborist be the “expert” and not have to go through another process.

Sometimes, it is small changes that lead to big changes. The county for years did not join in with 13 of our cities on a computer program that would standardize permitting in a number of categories.

There are some who do not want growth in the urban core, so these issues slow down the process, which only makes the costs of housing increase.

Another issue is the parking decisions. In areas where light rail is to eventually come, there may be less need in the future (and the future keeps being pushed further out as project costs have increased and schedules have changed), but that remains to be seen. Until then, people need to have parking spaces. In a current project in Redmond, for example, for 214 units, they are planning 204 parking stalls, and for some other projects, the ratio is even less. Some of these housing units are 3 and 4 bedrooms. So it is my guess that many of these occupants will have more than one car. Where do they park? As an example, one very nice housing area, also in Redmond, has more parking needs than supplied on premises, so they park in the shopping area nearby and in the neighborhoods. This is not helpful for the rest of the community.

Also, I am most interested in increasing the homeownership level of our community. Having an 80% homeownership level, which was once attained, is a healthy stability level. Having an opportunity to own property is a great way to gain wealth for all income levels, which is a requirement of the GMA. These are some ideas on how to do that.

We need to be aware of the push for government-owned housing rather than resident-owned housing and what that means to our society as a whole. Everyone should have access to a home — after all, that is what the law currently says.

Kathy Lambert is a former member of the King County Council who represented the Snoqualmie Valley. Send comments to editor@valleyrecord.com.