By Paul Queary and Tim Gruver
Once again there’s drama in the Senate over restricting rent. And once again Sen. Annette Cleveland of Vancouver is at the center of it.
If you were taking a stroll on the Capitol Campus this week then you may have noticed a lot of folks with signs and bright red sweatshirts cheering from the Legislative Building’s steps.
Those 100-plus people were rallying with the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance for the one housing proposal the progressive lobbying group’s dead-set on passing this session: House Bill 2114, that bid to cap rent hikes at 5% a year.
Rents are sky-high, which causes real problems for real people and creates pressure for government-mandated relief. But Republicans — and a crucial slice of Democrats — oppose rent restrictions both as an infringement on the property rights of landlords and as a questionable strategy for making housing more affordable.
A considerable number of folks chanting on the Capitol steps were bused to Olympia for the express purpose of lecturing Cleveland, the Vancouver Democrat well-known for her moderate, business-friendly politics and among the chief skeptics of rent caps.
HB 2114’s companion bill, SB 5961, was up for a vote in the Senate Housing Committee on Friday. A tweaked version of the bill was approved on a voice vote, pending the signatures of committee members after the vote, as is customary in the Senate.
We hear that Sen. Cleveland, who was present for the vote, didn’t sign “yes” or “no” on the signature board at the time, leaving the bill short of signatures to pass out of committee. Cleveland has until Wednesday to sign yes to advance the companion bill out of committee.
Back in 2021 a coalition of realtors, landlords, and allies in the market-rate housing business mounted a coordinated campaign to kill a proposed temporary ban on rent increases. Cleveland was a prime target of that campaign, and it worked. Another rent restrictions bill tanked at a key cutoff point last year.
The Senate version currently would impose a 15% limit on rent increases, with an exemption for newly built housing. Local jurisdictions could impose tighter restrictions. If Cleveland doesn’t sign off on the bill, it would likely die for the year.
The House version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Emily Alvarado, D-Seattle, is alive and kicking, but passing it would require a lengthy floor fight, which might not be worth it from a clock-management perspective, especially if it’s just going to die in the Senate. The Legislature’s session is just 60 days long in even-numbered years, which makes time precious and limits the number of controversial bills majority Democrats can pass.
— Paul Queary
Shoring up Rural ADUs
While we’re on the housing beat, rural Washington wants a piece of the ADU action.
By ADUs (auxiliary dwelling units), we’re talking about cottage houses or basement dwellings better known as mother-in-law apartments popular with aspiring Airbnb hosts and intergenerational households. Lawmakers penned a new rulebook plus a tax break for that last year, but most of it applied to densely populated areas.
House Bill 2126 from Rep. Sam Low, R-Lake Stevens, would let local governments green light a 1,296-square-foot detached ADU on rural lots of any size. Such ADUs would be subject to water, sewage, and septic rules. Elbowing aside protected forests or wetlands would be forbidden.
Here’s why you should care about this: People are turning barns, sheds, and garages into spare bedrooms around the state. HB 2126 would let local governments write up a rulebook for how to build them legally and bring more affordable housing to the country.
The Realtors, the builders, and local powers that be have favored the idea to the House Committee on Housing. The bill could give families sitting on aging homes more options beyond big cities in cheaper areas with wide open spaces.
Urbanists, environmentalists, and low-income advocates argued fiercely against the bill, saying it would spread sprawl and pollution, not to mention move more people (and their pets) closer to wildlife. Denser housing should be about using less land, not more, they argue. Plus there’s the debate of how affordable will those ADUs be without a fixed ceiling.
As the Urbanist has noted, Futurewise has upped its meme game to kill this bill for the aforementioned reasons in bombastic fashion.
House Bill 2126 is teed up for a vote in the House. It remains to be seen if the rural-urban divide on this bill evolves into a partisan one.