Most Washington residents can’t afford a new home, building group says

The majority of Washington residents are priced out of purchasing a new home, according to the
math
done by one of the largest home building organizations in America.

The Tumwater-based Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), which represents 800 members, calculates that households need $130,409 of income to qualify for a mortgage. Given Washington’s median household income is $73,775, that translates into 76% of households in the Evergreen State not being able to afford a median-priced new home.

“When we look at the housing affordability crisis in our state and nation, it’s easy to point to recent factors like supply chain disruptions or lumber prices,” BIAW President Joseph Irons said in a press release. “But the sad truth is there simply aren’t enough new homes available for people to purchase. That, coupled with decades of increasing layers of regulation and zoning restrictions, has slowly and steadily created the crisis we’re in today.”

Joseph’s contention is backed up by Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based think tank championing long-term solutions to the region’s challenges.

“Washington’s statewide tsunami of home price escalation demonstrates how housing shortages spill across city boundaries,” wrote Dan Bertolet, the organization’s director of housing and urbanism, in a September 2021
article
. “And it follows that the solution hinges on enacting statewide standards to boost the production of homes.”

He went on to note, “The critical target for state-level action is to loosen the stranglehold of local zoning laws that ban anything but detached houses with big yards and driveways on roughly three quarters of the state’s residential land. These exclusionary rules kill affordability in two ways: they mandate the most expensive kind of home, and they severely constrict the number of homes in places where people want to live.”

During this year’s legislative session that concluded March 10, the BIAW worked against what it characterized as anti-housing legislation,
helping
to block four out of five such bills:
House Bill 1770
that would have changed net-zero energy codes,
House Bill 1117
that would have implemented a net ecological gain standard in land use,
House Bill 1099
that would have added climate change considerations to the Growth Management Act (GMA), and
House Bill 1837
that would have required more on-the-job ergonomics rules.

“Every $1,000 increase in the cost of building a new home now prices more than 2,182 people out of the market in Washington,” Joseph said. “We’re grateful to those who stood with us, both Republicans and Democrats, to make home ownership a priority.”

A fifth piece of legislation,
Senate Bill 5042
, was touted by proponents as closing a loophole within the GMA that allowed for growth in rural landscapes creating urban sprawl. It passed the Legislature this year.

The BIAW said the law, first proposed as a bill 14 years ago, will increase land uncertainty for builders.

On the other hand, the BIAW approved of the Legislature passing
Senate Bill 5818
that makes minor adjustments to the State Environmental Policy Act, a move the organization says will save builders time and money.

The BIAW was disappointed legislation streamlining local permit process reviews, Senate Bill 5964, did not pass during this year’s legislative session.

The home ownership rate in Washington is
63.4%
, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The BIAW is wants to see that figure increase.

“The Building Industry Association of Washington looks forward to continuing to work with state lawmakers as well as local government leaders to provide guidance to address these problems,” Irons said. “We believe everyone deserves to be able to achieve the American dream of owning a home.”