While housing and land use issues are always of primary consideration for state lawmakers, the COVID-19 pandemic – and ensuing economic crisis – set the stage for a dramatic increase in contention and controversy for Washington State rental housing policy again this year in Olympia.

In each of the last several years, policy changes were proposed to pave the way for rent control, yet in 2021 – along with rent control proposals – many other proposals made it to the house floor, many of which present both short- and long-term challenges to the multifamily industry and the residents it serves.

Several key bills are now debated daily:

  • SB 5139: Emergency rent control (SB5139)
  • SSB 5160: Prevent eviction for non-payment (SSB 5160)
  • SHB 1239: Mandate the renewal of rental agreements (SHB 1236)

Additional bills could provide balanced legislation:

  • ESHB 1368: Spend federal assistance funds on rental assistance (ESHB 1368)
  • SHB 1277: Create new permanent funding source for rental assistance (SHB 1277)

If you are not yet involved in advocacy for the multifamily industry – now is the time to Take Action! 

In Olympia, legislators are faced with the difficult task of crafting policies that will allow the Governor to lift the emergency order banning eviction, yet they need critical insights from industry stakeholders to help guide their policy decisions and votes.

Although balanced policy could be accomplished by passing reasonable regulations and subsidy programs, instead the multifamily industry faces substantial new regulation that may do more damage than good for both housing providers and the residents they serve.

Current Challenges

The incredible amount of unpaid rent that has accrued over the last year continues to put pressure on housing providers who have seen no reduction in the costs of maintenance, insurance, financing, and property taxes. The current executive order shields every non-payer of rent, no matter their economic situation, and protects all but the most dangerous resident behaviors from accountability.

Without new policies from Olympia that make targeted rental assistance easily accessible and allow for housing providers to exercise some control over their property, the very housing that legislation seeks to maintain may become limited, with some housing providers removing their units from the market entirely.

SB 5139 provides for emergency statewide rent control. Although temporary in nature, rent control has many adverse and unintended consequences (Rent Control — WHITE PAPER).

SB 5160 extends the state’s eviction ban for two years or more, and results in a profound shift in the balance of risk in the management of rental property toward residents.

Many other proposals remain in consideration, including capital gains tax proposals (SSB 5096 & HB 1496) and those to reinstate the critical multifamily tax exemption (MFTE) for the creation of new affordable housing (SSB 5287).

Take Action!

Industry advocates are consistent with their messaging throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that we must work toward balanced solutions.  Housing providers should work with residents to create payment plans to address debts, while at the same time residents must seek support from all available subsidy programs.

Additionally, the Legislature has the power to access $500M in available Federal assistance that can be used to help residents that are truly in need with subsidies.

Legislators need help from your industry – they need to hear from you and from us – to get critical insights on the industry. Activists and tenant advocates continue to pursue drastic and ill-guided measures that seek to permanently change the relationship between housing providers and their residents.

Rental Housing Association (RHA) Resources

Summary of Active Bills: 2021 Legislative Session — ACTIVE BILLS

Rental Housing Coalition: Registration Page for Updates (FREE)

Contact Kyle Woodring, Director of Government Affairs, directly to find out how best you can actively participate by emailing advocacy@rhawa.org.

Washington Multi-Family Housing Association (MWFHA) Resources

Obtain Advocacy News:  Policy Issues & Legal Topics

Reach out to Legislators:  Legislative Action Center

Contact Brett Waller, Director of Government Affairs, through the WMFHA Directory to discuss how best to actively participate.

Seattle for Growth

Seattle for Growth: Advocacy and Financial Assistance

Contact Roger Valdez at Seattle for Growth directly by emailing roger@seattleforgrowth.org.

Our industry needs every willing and available apartment owner and service provider to engage with their government, it’s more important now than ever.

Decisions made over the next eight weeks will impact the role of property ownership, investment, and fundamental elements of Washington’s economy for decades.

Please reach out to these industry associations to lend support, write to your state legislators, speak to your city and county councilmembers, and begin following the discussion about these key bills immediately.

Special thanks to Kyle Woodring of RHA for co-authoring and providing critical updates and insights, and to Roger Valdez of Seattle for Growth for providing information and content.