Dec 20, 2022
On today’s midweek show, Representative Jessica Bateman of the 22nd Legislative District joins Crystal for an in-depth discussion on housing policy in Washington State. After laying out the Department of Commerce’s 20-year projection of a needed million homes of which half need to be low-income housing, Representative Bateman walks through plans to address issues of supply, stabilization, and subsidized housing in the 2023 Legislative Session. Crystal outlines common opposition arguments to addressing the housing crisis - such as pushing growth into rural areas and maintaining local control - and Representative Bateman debunks these claims as not rooted in reality or equity. The two then make hopeful observations of the urgency of the problem being reflected in a tone shift in the conversation as well as the election of younger and more diverse legislators with closer ties to the matter - as a result, the House is redoing their committee structure and a broad coalition of stakeholders is coming together to elevate solutions to an issue that affects all of us.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Representative Jessica Bateman
Representative Jessica Bateman lives by the commitment that no one should be left out or left behind.
A lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, she grew up in a single-parent, working-class household. Watching her mom work hard to provide for her family deeply shaped Jessica’s worldview and later motivated her advocacy for those most vulnerable in our communities.
Since then, Jessica has dedicated her career to serving the 22nd Legislative District, where she envisions an inclusive, equitable future for all who call this region home. As an organizer and coalition leader, Jessica has worked to create affordable housing, assist struggling families, and empower at-risk youth. Jessica also worked to pass a Sanctuary City Resolution in Olympia and is a passionate advocate for accessible health care.
Jessica is a first-generation college student who earned her master’s degree in Public Administration from The Evergreen State College and her bachelor’s degree in environmental science. She currently works as a health care policy analyst, and served on the Olympia City Council and as staff in the House of Representatives.
“What Washington's housing legislation could look like in 2023” by Joshua McNichols from KUOW
“Poll: Strong Majority of Washingtonians Support Middle Housing Options” from The Sightline Institute
“What Will It Take to Get Statewide Housing Reform?” by Matt Baume from The Stranger
“18 Reasons Why Washington Should Legalize Middle Housing” by Dan Bertolet from Sightline Institute
Futurewise: We work across Washington to create livable communities, ensure clean healthy waterways, and protect farms, forests & habitat for this & future generations.
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.
So today I am really excited to be welcoming Representative Jessica Bateman to the show to talk all things housing. How are you doing?
[00:00:48] Representative Jessica Bateman: I am fabulous. Thank you so much for having me.
[00:00:50] Crystal Fincher: Well, I'm really excited to talk about this. Obviously, housing affordability has been a major issue on the minds of a majority of people across the state. Going through election season, we see polls and we hear about what are the most pressing issues that voters are thinking about and that people are facing in their communities - and consistently the cost of housing and affordability comes up as one of the predominant concerns. Housing is usually people's biggest expense that they have, and the cost of housing has just been skyrocketing and has caused a lot of problems that people are trying to figure out how to deal with. You have been working on that.
So I guess starting off, I just want to back up a little bit and talk about what brought you to the Legislature - I mean to politics, you were on the Olympia City Council and then the Legislature - and what got you so passionate about housing?
[00:01:46] Representative Jessica Bateman: Well, I worked on housing on the Olympia City Council for five years during my tenure there, but I'll go back even further. When we talk about housing policy, we can get really into the weeds and we're on a show right now that has "wonk" in the title - so I definitely can go there and have those conversations. But I think it's really important for us to remember - when we talk about the need for housing - abundant housing and housing options for everyone, housing that's affordable for families - we're talking about people. Because every single person and every single family has to have a home and a place to live.
And for me, it's personal. My mom grew up in poverty - she was born and raised in a trailer park in rural Montana. She moved out here to get a job and after having me, she was able to get a job at the county, King County, working as a janitor. And that job was a union-paying job and it helped provide the economic security for her, healthcare benefits - to buy a home as a single mom for $117,000 in Maple Valley. She took the equity that she built in that home and helped me buy a home when I was in my early 30s. I was able to sell that home, pay off all my student loans, and buy a second home with financial security and stability. Fortunately for me, I was one of the lucky ones. I went on to earn my Master's degree, ran for City Council, and now I'm in the Legislature. I want every family to have that opportunity - and right now with the current conditions that we are experiencing with housing, that is not the reality for people across Washington state. And my major concern is that the status quo is not working and we have an obligation - a moral obligation - to make changes so that that opportunity is available to everyone.
[00:03:30] Crystal Fincher: Completely makes sense. It mirrors the story of so many people in our communities right now. So what are you working on? What is the fix? What do we need to do to get this issue under control?
[00:03:43] Representative Jessica Bateman: I don't want to imply that there is a single solution, or that this is an easy problem to solve. The reality is that it has been decades in the making. It's also multifaceted. We've seen construction after the last recession - we saw a lot of people exit that workforce and we haven't seen them come back since then. So we've got a workforce issue underlying what is a barrier to the construction of housing. The fact of the matter is that the majority of cities across Washington state only allow one type of home to be built - single-family homes - in the vast majority of the residential land use areas. So when we're experiencing a shortage of housing - the numbers that we've been talking about in the last year are the quarter of a million homes that we're behind. We've now got estimates from the Department of Commerce - what our housing need is over the next 20 years - it's a million, and half of those - 500,000 - need to be homes that are affordable for people earning 0-50% AMI [average median income], which would be considered low-income housing.
So we have this desperate need to build housing commensurate with our population growth - that's really what we have not been able to do. We've been growing as a state, growing as an economy with jobs, job recruitment. You in Seattle definitely know and see that every day. While we do that, we also have to - must - allow for the construction for homes for those people to live in. Because when we don't have enough homes, the supply imbalance creates this environment - because everyone needs a home. People - what we saw in the last year with the astronomical prices - people in Seattle bidding $200,000 over asking price - really just eliminating the option for middle-income families right out the gate. People that were buying homes in this last year were people that had wealth.
So what we're trying to focus on going into the 2023 session is focusing on the multifaceted nature of this issue - triaging the issue of housing - because we know one single solution will not solve it. So it's about increasing supply - making sure that we have homes available to Washingtonians of all shapes and sizes. So that's meeting you where you are and what your needs are and what the demand is. If that's an ADU for a senior that wants to live on the property of their children so they can age in place and provide childcare. If that's a college student that would like to work at the record store down the street and be able to walk to work every day. That's a duplex, if you want to be able to buy into a home and build equity - or a sixplex or a fourplex or a cottage home - we should have all of these options available to us. There's also additional barriers and we have to make it legal to build those homes - we have to lift the bans on those homes. We also need to do things like make it easier for lot splitting - so if you have a piece of property, you can split that line and you can actually sell it - making that equity yourself, that profit. And you can also allow someone else to buy it - build a duplex - so they can then have that opportunity. We're also focusing on things like condo liability, permitting, impact fees. We can get into all those details, but there's all these other things that impact our ability to impact supply.
We also want to focus on stabilization because ultimately it is much more effective to keep people in the homes that they're in. So that's weatherization support for low-income people. That's rent stabilization - helping people stay if they're getting behind on their rent. It's also increased notice for people when rent increases are going to happen. We had a bill last year that would have required six months' notice for a tenant if the rent increase was going to be 7% or more. That bill did not make it out of the House last year. We can talk more definitely about the challenges of a bill like that. I also think we'll have a rent cap bill. So actually keeping a cap on rent - maybe similar to what we saw in Oregon, which was a 7% or inflation, but it could be - like in a case where we have inflation, it could be higher. And then also the last tier of that stool is subsidized housing. So that's the public investment in permanently affordable housing. You can call it social housing, you can call it public housing - but it's subsidized housing by the government to keep it affordable in perpetuity. And there's a number of different ways that we do that. Primarily at the legislative level, it's through the Housing Trust Fund. We need to vastly increase our investment in that. So the numbers that I started off with - the 500,000 that are 0-50% AMI - that's very difficult to build considering how expensive it is to build housing, with the cost of land, infrastructure, materials, workforce, permits, timeline, all the things, impact fees. So we really do need the government to step up and help support the subsidized lower-income housing. Over the last 40 years - since 1986 - the Housing Trust Fund has only built 55,000 homes. So if we're looking at a 20-year horizon of a need of 500,000 homes - that is pretty simple math for the common person to just say that does not add up. So we've got a significant gap in the need and what we're investing. That number just came out recently - I had been telling my colleagues we need to add a minimum double our Housing Trust Fund investment. Now that those numbers have come out, it tells me we need to make a significant investment, much more than double. So that's just the start of what I'm thinking for 2023.
[00:09:15] Crystal Fincher: Well, and that does certainly seem like it would make a significant difference and addresses many of the different elements of challenge in the whole issue. When I hear people - who have been less excited about this bill, or about taking on housing challenges, or even in opposition to - saying things, there are a few things that I hear. One is just, and I think there was a local meeting last night where it was expressed - hey, this is all growth. Why do we need to accommodate people who are coming here? Somewhere else can accept the growth. That's for big cities and not necessarily for all of the other communities. What would you say to-
[00:10:00] Representative Jessica Bateman: I would say that is not a factual statement. It's not based in reality or evidence or fact. Cities in Washington state - when you take an oath to serve the Constitution of Washington state - you take an oath to obey its laws and to fulfill them as a local elected official. And in our state law - under the Growth Management Act - we are required as local municipalities to plan for future population growth. It's a requirement. We can't just opt out of that and say no - although I have heard that before. I've doorbelled and had someone tell me - let's just build a wall around our city and tell people they need to move somewhere else. I think it's a fantastical idea. It's convenient to think we just don't have to welcome people into our community - I like it exactly how it is. The reality is that's not an option. If it's not an option and we know population growth will happen and that we have to accommodate it, our choice and opportunity is, what do we want that to look like? What do we want our community to look like?
[00:10:57] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense. And I think the entire business community would be pretty unhappy with just saying - no, we don't want anyone else in this community. Definitely would not be a community that thrived.
[00:11:10] Representative Jessica Bateman: If you walk through that argument - think about doctors, nurses, construction, waitresses, waiters. Our lives depend upon people being here, people working here - solutions, creative thinking, schools, everything we have - we want people to be here.
[00:11:30] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. What do you say to other people who - there was another recent local meeting where folks were - well, we're supposed to absorb growth within these existing boundaries that - in either special districts or existing areas where there are homes. But there's all this other land that we have out in these suburban and rural areas and we can, instead of "burdening" single-family neighborhoods, we can just build new housing elsewhere. What do you say to people who say that?
[00:12:02] Representative Jessica Bateman: Also a fantastical idea about reality. Going back to the Growth Management Act, which stipulates that we concentrate population growth in our urban environments, in our cities - for good reason. That's where the infrastructure already exists. It's much more cost effective to build there. And because we want to retain green spaces, habitat conservation for our environment, for farmland, for habitat for endangered species and different animals - we have to have those green spaces. That's why the Growth Management Act stated its intent to have cities - population growth to occur in cities. Cities have processes for annexing and for expanding out, but there's a process for that as that's not something that happens every day and it's complicated. The reason is because we know we have to abide by the law and that population growth has to occur in our cities.
[00:12:53] Crystal Fincher: Last session, we heard from a number of cities - through a number of advocacy organizations and lobbyists - that cities don't want a one-size-fits-all solution for the state. They want to be able to come up with their own solutions for their own cities on their own. Unsurprisingly, not many cities have figured out that solution, despite the fact that this has been a growing crisis for years and years. What do you say to those who say - we need local control?
[00:13:24] Representative Jessica Bateman: I think local control is a 20th century ideology - it's outlived its use in this conversation. And it's vastly inadequate as a defense when we're looking at not enough housing for the people in Washington state to live in. The argument just falls incredibly flat. In addition to that, I would say I heard it for five years when I was on the Olympia City Council. We passed middle housing there - legislation, ordinance - after years of work, after 44 public meetings, after 1200 pages of written comment, after 3 public hearings. We went through it and we passed it anyway because we had - fortunately, an organized group of residents that were supportive and wanted livable, walkable communities. And we also had about a half that were really vocal and opposed, which is traditionally the people that show up at City Council meetings. We have data that tells us in fact that people that show up at City Council meetings are predominantly older, whiter, male property owners - so I would argue that the very process that we go through to receive public input on things like zoning changes and proposed zoning changes - where we're considering whether or not we want to grow as a city, which means allow more people to live here and be here - and the people that show up are the people that have the investment, the financial stake in maintaining the status quo is not equitable. And as government, as elected officials, we should - especially as Democrats, with our values - we should be looking at this system and analyzing - is it equitable? Who is benefiting from this?
We have to think of the future that we want. When I think of the future that I want and the problem that we're currently experiencing where we have not enough homes for the people that are here resulting in homelessness, resulting in people spending a third to half of their income on their housing, being vulnerable to falling into homelessness, not buying basic necessities like medicine because they cannot afford their needs because their rent is so high, or people that are terrified of a rent increase over a hundred dollars - the stress that that causes. When I hear those things and that's the problem that I'm trying to solve and a city comes to me and says - but I want to maintain local control. That's why it falls flat. And the data doesn't lie - the vast majority of cities do not allow middle housing. 5% of the permits in Washington state for new construction are for middle housing. The data doesn't lie. The consensus among social scientists - people that study this work - doesn't lie. There's, at the local level, not a lot of incentives for individual residents to support new housing. That's just a fact. It's not a judgment. I'm not judging people. I think it's a very natural inclination to say - I want things to stay how they are when you give a choice. Like I mentioned before, the way that we go about getting public input for these decisions really is inherently getting input from people that are already housed, not the people that are working two jobs, single moms, or someone that speaks English as a second language, or someone that has a reaction to an institutional setting like a City Council meeting. We need to be aware of that and we need to be thinking collectively about the good of Washington state. I would also argue that we've got over 220 cities in Washington - the vast majority of them are small ones. Does it make sense when we have something that's impacting cities across the state that we would want them to be doing it on an ad hoc individual basis across the state? I would argue that we would want a floor statewide, and then if they want to add additional incentives and additional density increases - that they can do that.
[00:16:54] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense to me. I think one interesting thing that I've noticed, as this conversation has taken place over the last several years, is that there's been a hesitance on behalf of a lot of elected officials because of what you just described - in hearing from the most vocal people who, as you talk about, usually are wealthy landowners who are profiting handsomely on the status quo, being vocal and saying - no, we don't need this. We don't want this. This isn't the right way to go. We don't need to grow. Just leave things the way they are. And a real hesitance from a number of elected officials to take action because they feel like it will come with a lot of pushback. However, I think what has been really encouraging to see is that over the, especially the last couple electoral cycles, we have seen voters in districts where this has been a big topic of conversation - in a number of districts where some of the most outspoken critics or people who have been hesitant to take action on this have been - and their districts and their jurisdictions, overall in voting, when this has been an issue in the election - and basically where candidates have taken opposing views on the ballot - voters have voted overwhelmingly in favor of candidates who are saying - hey, this is not sustainable, we have to take action, we need to implement middle housing, we need to make housing more affordable, we need to protect renters and just make sure people can afford to age in place, live where they are. Hearing from a number of parents who have raised kids and who were not paying attention so much, but now their kids are in college and in early careers - and they're seeing through their kids' eyes a lot of times how hostile this housing market is, how hard it is to get your foot in the door as a homeowner, and how hard it is just to afford rent year after year - and that creating a different kind of a sense of urgency and need than we've seen before. This issue is affecting everybody, everywhere. Do you see a change in perspective among some of your colleagues in the Legislature after seeing so many voters vote in favor of a new direction?
[00:19:16] Representative Jessica Bateman: Yes. I have noticed the tone change on this particular issue - because I've been working on it for eight years now - and it's significantly different today. I noticed it a lot last session when I was working on the middle housing bill. We even had an article, I think in the Auburn paper, where when they presented the middle housing bill, it was pretty - they didn't try to burn anyone at the stake with their description of the bill. It was pretty balanced - I was surprised. And what that tells me - and also the anecdotal stories that I hear from people talking to members in their district, from what I hear from my colleagues - is that as Washingtonians get more squeezed by this housing shortage, the more people it impacts, the more real it becomes. Like my little sister - my dad worked at Boeing 40 years, something like that. My little sister is the baby of the family. She's a nurse. She can't afford a home in King County. She makes a good living at her wage. She has a partner too that makes a decent living. But the median home price last year when I was working on this bill, or earlier this year, was $830,000 - which they just cannot afford. They want to live near downtown because they don't want to spend an hour commuting every day and it's just impossible - there's no way that they can do that. So they're postponing starting a family, postponing building equity, building a future, getting roots in a community.
That's happening all across the state, so we're seeing people that have children, like you mentioned, that are experiencing that. We're also seeing people that have relatives - like parents - that are stuck in these big suburban homes that are going - I would move to a smaller home if there was an option for me, and there aren't. Because we're not seeing the construction of - those smaller homes and condos really aren't being constructed. They're being constructed at a very low rate. So because it's impacting more and more people, I think you're seeing that dialogue change. Also, the younger and more diverse our legislators are, the more connected they are to this issue. It's pretty simple. And just this recent year, our freshmen incoming class is the most diverse class - both racially, lived experience, and economically. So I'm very optimistic that we're going to take this issue seriously, that we're going to work on solutions for the people of Washington, and that we're going to get some major things accomplished this next year.
[00:21:30] Crystal Fincher: All right. So talking about getting things accomplished - is middle housing going to pass this year?
[00:21:36] Representative Jessica Bateman: I am very hopeful. So a couple of things have happened. First, we have changed our committee structures. Every two years, we evaluate our committee structures and the jurisdictions within them. And so going into 2023, we heard from our members in the Democratic caucus on the House side that housing was the number one issue that they wanted to focus on. So we took a look at the committees and we decided to create one committee that's just housing and everything housing. That might seem like an obvious choice, but it wasn't. Before that, the current committee structure - until the end of this year - I'm on the Housing, Human Services and Veteran Affairs Committee, which includes veteran affairs, developmental disability, social services, and housing. So we're putting everything other than housing - we're pulling it out - and then we're going to take zoning and GMA out of Local Government and put it into the Housing Committee. Makes sense because we want to look at not just the symptoms of not having enough housing - like the need for rent stabilization, for instance. We want to look at the cause, the root of the problem, and look at all of those things together - condos, HOAs, rent stabilization, Housing Trust Fund dollars, and above all, supply. Because to be honest, we have not been focusing very much on the supply side of this problem. It's almost been like a dirty word amongst politicians. And I think there may be subconscious reasons for that - it's really easy to vilify developers. When we get into the nitty gritty of why housing is so expensive, it's because it's expensive to construct housing. And actually the government's responsible for a lot of that. So we need to be honest about that - it's the first step in coming to terms with a solution is being honest and accepting the current conditions. So we need to look at those things and figure out how are we going to solve them. And I'm very enthusiastic and excited about this committee. We'll decide later on this week who will serve on committees and it will be adopted by our caucus next week. But I think that indicates that we're really taking this seriously and want to put a concerted focus, like I mentioned before, triaging the issue of housing.
I'm going to be bringing back my middle housing bill this year. It will be more ambitious than it was last year. It will be impacting cities - last year it was cities 10,000-20,000 duplexes everywhere, and cities 20,000 and up fourplexes everywhere, basically. And this year we're starting at cities of 6,000 or more - and it will be legalizing fourplexes on every current residential lot. In addition, if two units are affordable, there's a density bonus and they could have a sixplex. So on any current single-family residential lot, a sixplex could be allowed if two of the units were affordable - up to 80% AMI. And then in addition to that - same as last year - allowing sixplexes within a half a mile of transit. So that's the basic gist of the bill. It will impact - oh, and cities that are contiguous with any city larger than 200,000, which will impact some of those smaller cities that are up close to Seattle and larger cities in King County.
And so we have a coalition working on it this year - Futurewise, which is an environmental organization that's been focusing on Growth Management Act policies, land use, protecting and conserving the environment - they're making this a priority this year, along with House Bill 1099 from last year, which is a climate change bill requiring cities to adopt climate change policies in their comprehensive planning processes. I'm thrilled that these two bills are together a priority, because we often don't talk about the connection between climate change and land use. But the reality is we will not accomplish our climate change, our carbon reduction goals in Washington state if we do not change land use. Because utilization of public transit and multimodal transportation is predicated on density. And that means we have to do infill. And so having those two priorities and bills together and talking about them together is my dream come true. Because ultimately this is about solutions and we need solutions that actually work. And these two really are - the intersection of climate change with all of the things that we want to focus on - equity, racial justice, conserving and protecting the environment, economic stability, all those things. It all works together, housing and climate. And so I'm happy to have them on board and working the issue. And working on getting more and more support from my colleagues - I had a good number of colleagues that co-sponsored the bill last year, I'm hoping to have even more this year. We've been doing a lot of work over the interim and I'm excited.
[00:26:11] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Now, when you talk about you've been doing a lot of work and the coalition that you've been able to put together with this - how have you gone about this? How have you involved stakeholders in the process? How did you get to where you are today with this bill?
[00:26:26] Representative Jessica Bateman: So last year was my first - I sponsored it in 2022. But prior to that, Representative Nicole Macri, who is my housing shero, sponsored that bill. She asked me to take it over last year because she had a lot of other bills she was working on and I was happy to do so. It was Governor request last year, and there's a process for Governor request - they have to go through their whole internal process. So this year is different because I'm drafting it on my own. Last year, the public engagement process was kind of me on Twitter - that was the extent of it, which I really didn't use before that bill. But the response that we got was overwhelming. The number of people that signed into the bill last year - I've got it on a sticky note - 548 people signed in Pro on the bill last year, which is phenomenal. And we had quite a few people that were signed up to support it - I think 37 people were signed in to actually comment. That's a lot of people for a bill, especially a wonky land use bill. So what that tells me is that this is impacting so many people - that they're motivated to come and talk to their legislators about it and to sign in to support a bill, they're engaging on social media, they're listening to podcasts - and we did interviews and news and all the different things - that's happening because it's an issue. It's top of mind for people - that's the only reason why this issue continues to be focused on - is because the people in Washington are saying - fix this, we need a solution.
And so after session ended and the bill died, I got together with my labor stakeholders and advocates, environmental advocates, some racial justice advocates and said - this is something that intersects all of these issues. We need to work together and we need to work together on a package looking at this holistically. What are all of the things that impact our ability to create housing and enough housing for Washingtonians? And then how do we keep people stable in the homes that they have, and how do we build enough subsidized low-income housing that will only be built by the public because the private sector won't be able to make it pencil out? And so in doing that, we saw - over the summer, the Washington State Labor Council passed a resolution stating that they supported ending exclusionary zoning because it impacts working families and their ability to take those wage gains that they've earned - hard-fought over years - they just dissipate when the cost of rent and homes go up so much. We've also seen the environmental organizations and supporters come on board and say - this is impacting climate. And the Black Homeowner Initiative has a 7-point plan for creating homes - and included in that is legalizing middle housing. So what we really saw was a consensus among these stakeholders and organizations that this is something that they want to focus on in 2023. They really see the intersection and the connected nature of these issues. And that's really enabled us to work and educate lawmakers. We held a town hall last night - a webinar for folks to learn about this package proposal. And then I think what we're going to see is - Democrats working with Republicans - I think this is going to be a bipartisan issue, at least the supply side of this package. Ultimately, that package that includes supply stabilization and subsidy, there will be people or organizations that cannot support certain bills or certain tiers of that stool. But they also recognize that all of those things are included in a solution. So some people might opt out of certain parts. But I think in terms of the supply conversation, we'll see some bipartisan support.
[00:30:12] Crystal Fincher: So in terms of the stabilization issues, are there any conversations about lifting the ban on rent control?
[00:30:21] Representative Jessica Bateman: Yes. So the bill I mentioned before, that we had last year in Local Government, was just simply providing advanced notice - six months' notice. And that bill was killed. The people that were opposed to that were successful in that bill never making it to the floor. My impression, having been there for two years, is that rent control remains politically very, very difficult to take away - to give cities the ability to actually to have a rent cap, or rent control, or even doing it statewide. I don't actually understand why that is because it's very popular politically. People, my mom included - over the summer, we were garage saleing and we were talking about housing and I said - Mom, does it make sense to you that we can't put a cap on rent? She was like - Nooo. So I think we're going to see probably a rent stabilization bill - a bill that will allow for a cap on a 7% inflationary increase - so with inflation, with a couple extra percentages just as a buffer for things like maintenance or if you need to do some upgrades on the unit, but within reason. Some kind of a stabilizing - you can see and predict how much and it's not excessive. They did that in Oregon when they passed their middle housing legislation a couple years ago, and I really like the combination of the two of those. We'll probably see just one that's straight rent control. Whether or not those can pass - I think it's a really heavy lift and I haven't seen evidence of a coalition organizing around that in a strong way.
[00:32:00] Crystal Fincher: What can people do to help organize around that and middle housing and funding - increasing funding for the Housing Trust Fund? How can the public engage, get involved with this, and help make sure their Representatives and Senators are in the right place on this?
[00:32:18] Representative Jessica Bateman: I think - and it's tough when I hear that question, because I know having been a renter and a person earning minimum wage and living in poverty, poverty wages - it's really hard to tell people - take time out of your day, your stressful life, and put the onus on them to then contact their elected officials. However, I do think that those stories really resonate with people in the Legislature. Personal stories are the most important. I was a legislative assistant years ago before being elected to City Council. And I can tell you, even as a staffer, those personal stories really resonate and they do far more than a fact sheet does. That being said, I know it's difficult for people. So even - if you have a tenants' union, they probably have legislative priorities. You can sign on to bills and track bills and just sign your name - that's important. Also, the Low Income Housing Alliance has a legislative priorities - they're very, very organized and they have a really great outreach and engagement with their members to tell those stories. Ultimately, we need more people that are directly impacted by our housing shortage and rent increases.
I'm surprised - because when I go out to my community, I hear from seniors - like this summer, the senior resources center in my community - the woman who manages that told me she gets two or three calls a day from a senior that says they can't afford their rent increase. And she looked at me and she said - you know what I tell them? What I give them? And I said, what? She says - I give them the phone number for homelessness services because that's all I have. There's no resources for them. There's no bucket of money for them. Nothing. That's all I have. And she has to do that every day - because there's no special funding for seniors. And seniors are on a fixed income - it's so obvious. But then, we hear these stories - $400 increases, $500, $1,000 increases. People can't afford it. So that's the reality of our constituents across the state. And it's a huge problem - both from a humanitarian perspective, also from a cost-effective perspective - because once you're unhoused, it is so much more expensive to get you back into housing and the destabilizing impact that has on you, your family, your children, school, for everything.
[00:34:40] Crystal Fincher: What else can be done to help stabilize, or what else is on the agenda this session to help keep people in their homes, to help people be able to manage the rent increases? I have a neighbor who this past year had their rent go up over 40%. And just really, really hard to manage and negotiate through. Obviously, their income did not go up at all and trying to squeeze that in. And there just seems to be no kind of incentive for landlords - many of them corporate landlords or corporate entities, not even people you can talk to - doesn't seem to be any kind of incentive for them to slow down or moderate the rent increases. It seems like it's going to have to happen through regulation or it's not going to happen - and we'll continue to pay the consequences until then.
[00:35:33] Representative Jessica Bateman: I agree with everything that you said. And I think what we're going to see is a big push for a significant increase in the Housing Trust Fund. And I know that sounds vague. It's the beginning of a conversation around what does that look like and what does that entail? There's a couple - so when we say an increase in investment in the Housing Trust Fund, we have to identify where that money comes from. And we have to identify what revenue source because there's a lot of reluctance to move money that's going towards something now into something else. We don't want to have a scarcity mindset where we cut things that are really important in order to fund other things that are important. Revenue is a tricky thing for us to address. It takes a little bit of organization and demonstrated support. A lot of things have to kind of line up in order for that to happen. I have heard of two revenue sources. First is an additional local REET option for cities to pass that they can use for affordable housing. Cities have -
[00:36:38] Crystal Fincher: And is the REET a real estate investment tax?
[00:36:41] Representative Jessica Bateman: Real estate excise tax.
[00:36:42] Crystal Fincher: Excise tax - thank you.
[00:36:44] Representative Jessica Bateman: Yes. And cities have a couple of different tools in their toolbox right now. They have a 1% property tax or sales tax that they can implement for the use for affordable housing. They also have a sales tax that they can get back from the state as a form of credit - that was a June Robinson bill from before I was in the Legislature that I cannot recall right now. It's not a significant amount of funding, but it would add to if they were to do the Home Fund - which is what we call it in Olympia - the 1% sales tax. Those are two revenue sources. Not all cities are doing that - a handful are and counties. First, I would say the Low Income Housing Alliance has been really great about educating local electeds to know what revenue options they have. We need cities to be a partner in this. In addition to that, we also need to identify revenue sources at the state level so we can make a big investment. It'd be really lovely if we had a sense of urgency and investment from our federal partners as well. I'm not going to bank on that. However, I have a fabulous Congresswoman, Marilyn Strickland, who's working on that. So REET local option.
Also, we have a progressive REET - we changed it a couple of years ago. For the higher properties, there's a discussion about lowering the threshold for when the higher rate would apply, which would increase the amount of revenue that we're collecting from that. There's also discussions about wealth tax - that was something we considered a couple of years ago when we passed the capital gains excise tax. A wealth tax is very popular amongst Washingtonians, and it makes sense to have the wealthiest Washingtonians paying their fair share. However, going into what some people might call a recession - we're feeling recession, inflation - we're hearing a little bit of talk about that. I think that it remains very politically popular and feasible, so I would push us to do that. We do need to increase our investment in the Housing Trust Fund for the reasons you identified. We need to have rent stabilization. We have a doc recording fee Rent Stabilization Fund for the first time - that was created last year or the year before - and that goes directly into rent assistance for people. We need to provide more investment in that and we need to vastly increase the number in the Housing Trust Fund. The Association of Washington Cities is advocating for a billion dollar a year increased investment in the housing trust fund.
[00:39:09] Crystal Fincher: That is significant.
[00:39:11] Representative Jessica Bateman: That's six times what we're currently investing right now, so it's significant.
[00:39:16] Crystal Fincher: I would love to see it. I think the final thing I just want to cover - you had mentioned that government does have a role to play in how expensive it is to build housing and challenges. We hear challenges about design review and the time it takes to permit, just the time it takes to build and all the different factors involved with that. Are you looking at anything to address those issues?
[00:39:42] Representative Jessica Bateman: We are. First, there's going to be a bill on eliminating minimum parking requirements near transit, which would save - I think in Seattle the last time I heard, it adds an additional $75,000 per unit. In addition to that, an impact fee deferral bill. As a developer, when you go to start building, you can defer out the impact fee until after you sell the property. Permit streamlining in Washington state - cities are supposed to turn around a permit in 120 days. There's no accountability or action that happens if they don't meet that timeline. We need to provide them with resources and support so they can actually honor that timeline and hold them accountable if they don't. There's another bill for condos that will allow condos of 12 units or less to be subject to residential energy code and residential building code instead of commercial - will significantly reduce cost. I know Representative Duerr is working on a bill that's similar to that for middle housing, but it's going to be a study to get them to come up with a plan for how to do that - so we can have middle housing only have to go through the residential building codes, which would reduce the costs as well. Those are just a handful of the bills that we've talked about so far. I think there will be more, but there is a significant area of interest in reducing the cost and our role in creating the high cost of constructing housing.
[00:41:17] Crystal Fincher: Sounds good. Then the issue of just some notoriously bad actors who are landlords - and hearing from cities that code enforcement resources are short, seeking funding for that - are you looking at anything to help hold bad landlords accountable for illegal and negligent actions?
[00:41:43] Representative Jessica Bateman: That hasn't been an issue that has been brought to me. I'm happy to work with folks and see additional revenue that we could provide for cities. I know - in the city of Olympia, we have code enforcement, so if you've got a violation of a code, I guess it would depend upon how active the code enforcement department is. In Olympia, it's pretty active and if you have - I've called them before - and they come pretty quickly. If cities are saying they need more resources to enable them to actually take those complaints and actually go out and investigate, I'm happy to have that conversation. Because while we focus on making sure there is housing available, we want to make sure that it's healthy housing for people.
[00:42:23] Crystal Fincher: Makes sense. How can people follow the work that you're doing throughout the Legislature and just stay up to date on what you're working on?
[00:42:33] Representative Jessica Bateman: So first, my email - you can reach me at email@example.com. You can also follow me @jessdbateman - B-A-T-E-M-A-N - on Twitter. And you can also find me on Facebook - I have a legislative Facebook account. It's frozen right now, I think, because of the elections. I think it'll be active starting next January. I would say that the most fast-paced information is on my Twitter account, and I will be posting updates on my middle housing bill as I introduce it, which should be happening in the next week. I was really hoping to drop it today on my birthday, but it didn't work out that way. So I'll be posting information for people so they can get engaged. Also, Futurewise, I'm sure, will be doing that. And Futurewise has an account as well on Twitter.
[00:43:29] Crystal Fincher: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for taking this time to explain all this to us, for working so hard on this for so long. I wish you a very happy birthday. Thanks for joining us.
[00:43:42] Representative Jessica Bateman: Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure and thank you so much for hosting the opportunity to have this dialogue about this really important issue.
[00:43:50] Crystal Fincher: Thanks so much.
[00:43:51] Representative Jessica Bateman: Thanks. Bye.
[00:43:52] Crystal Fincher: Thank you all for listening to Hacks & Wonks. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler. Our assistant producer is Shannon Cheng and our Post-Production Assistant is Bryce Cannatelli. You can find Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks, and you can follow me @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered right to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave us a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.