Commentary: It’s time to go big or go home when it comes to state’s housing crisis


Washington’s housing affordability crisis hurts every corner of the state. We’ve all heard stories. Nurses and grocery store employees can’t afford to live where they work. Young people are priced out of their hometowns. First-time homebuyers can’t afford a down payment. Seniors struggle to downsize in retirement.

We need solutions at scale for a crisis this big. Legislators have an opportunity this session to pass a historic package of housing legislation. Bipartisan support is helping move dozens of proposed bills to the finish line.

There’s a theme: We need more houses. All types, all kinds, everywhere and for everyone. We need to encourage more middle housing and speed up permitting for builders. We need more affordable starter homes, like townhouses and condos, and we need more housing near transit. The Association of Washington Business (AWB) supports policies that increase housing supply and opposes policies that would make housing more expensive.

Population growth and historic underbuilding has fueled the state’s affordability crisis, with prices increasing as demand outstrips supply. The state’s rental vacancy rate sits at 4%, below the 7 to 8% considered for a healthy market, according to a January report from Challenge Seattle.

Nearly 1 million Washington households are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing and the AWB Institute’s Vitals dashboard shows that more than 22% of renters spend 50% or more of income on rent. Lower- and middle-income households are more likely to fall in this category and often forced to choose between important necessities.

Buying a home in Washington is becoming increasingly out of reach. More than 85% of households don’t make enough to afford an average priced home, with median homebuyers needing at least $38,000 to close. On average, renters have just $1,500 in the bank.

The housing crisis is connected to the workforce shortage that many employers are facing. Many of our most common jobs, like administrators, sales and food prep employees, are most in need of affordable housing. Yet the gap between their wages and higher paid occupations is widening.

Housing is a top policy issue for 37% of the state’s employers, affecting their ability to recruit and keep employees. According to AWB’s 2023 Competitiveness Redbook, Washington has many competitive advantages for businesses, but we consistently rank as one of the most expensive areas in the country.

The Washington State Department of Commerce estimates we need to build between 20,000 and 71,000 housing units every year for the next 30 years to keep up with population growth, and according to the Challenge Seattle report, “Washington may need up to 2.5 million homes by 2050 to create a healthy housing market.”

We need policies that increase affordable housing in the short- and long-term. AWB urges lawmakers to pass a bipartisan housing package — and Washingtonians need it passed this — that includes bills that encourage “missing middle” housing and condos and for more accessory dwelling units.

Housing has long been a priority in Olympia. What’s different this year is the urgency, bipartisan collaboration, and willingness to embrace statewide solutions. 

We need to go big on housing so all Washingtonians can go home.


Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturers association.


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  • LouiisB

    The Building Industry Association of Clark County has calculated that the median home price in Clark County is about $550,000. Of that, they have calculated that $135,000 is directly attributed to regulatory burden. Approximately 1/3 of the cost of a home is the cost of regulation. And that does not include the skyrocketing costs of home values as a direct result of regulated scarcity of homes in Clark County. This is OK for home owners who purchased their homes decades ago, but not so great for everyone else.

    Ultimately, the housing shortage we all face is a direct result of government interference in the market place. This is a government created problem. If there were twice as many homes available right now, there would be no housing shortage. It seems that those most negatively affected by the housing crisis vote for the same folks who have caused the housing shortage.

    Thursday, March 16 Report this

  • HonestJoe

    Well stated Louiis B! And out of that excessive regulatory expense, there is also the cost in terms of time wasted to wait for things to get inspected and approved. Also the absolutely unnecessary ban on natural gas as a heat source...that is and will be again the most affordable and clean energy source we currently have for housing. The Kill Joy liberals make the housing crisis worse with all of their crazy loony climate change hysteria. Jay Inslee should be impeached. He is the worst governor in the United States.

    Tuesday, March 21 Report this