Commentary: “High-quality, affordable housing is a critical factor in the ability to attract and retain skilled workers.”

In the Wenatchee World, Association of Washington Business president Kris Johnson writes about the housing crisis affecting Washington State and the nation. He draws on information presented and shared at a recent housing forum co-sponsored by AWB. 

Johnson says,

Based on the discussion at the Housing Forum, it’s clear there are no easy answers. Possible solutions include rethinking state land-use rules like the Growth Management Act to allow more space for new home-building and changing local requirements to make it less expensive to build new homes, apartments, and condominiums.

The state Legislature adopted the Growth Management Act in 1990, and most observers of Washington’s housing issues agree it’s due for an update.

The challenge has been with us for years, growing more urgent with rapid population growth and constrained housing supply. We explored some of the regulatory challenges in a post last October. Then, we said,

There’s abundant evidence that Washington’s regulatory policies have played a role in the housing affordability challenges in metropolitan Seattle. We discussed them in posts on research into the Growth Management Act at 25, national research on urban containment regulations, and Canada’s restrictive land use policies. On one level, it’s textbook supply and demand: constrain supply as demand increases and prices go up. 

As Johnson writes,

Housing is not a partisan issue, and solving Washington’s housing crisis will take a group effort. That explains the diverse and unprecedented coalition behind the forum.

Across the nation, the lack of affordable housing has affected mobility and economic development. Unable to afford relocation, many people find it difficult to follow the opportunities.

Cullum Clark sums up one of today’s starkest urban challenges.

More and more Americans are moving to less expensive regions of the country, or, more commonly, settling for the limited opportunities available in struggling communities… These changes in the economic geography of American cities have far-reaching implications for upward mobility and economic growth.

Clark’s advice to “star” metros like Seattle is consistent with the thinking that emerged at the Housing Form. He counsels,

Smart policy should focus on bringing more people to where the opportunities are. Doing so will require:

• Relaxing many of the excessive land-use rules constricting the housing supply in thriving cities and neighborhoods;
• Large changes in tax and other policies, since so many policies are essentially designed to drive up housing values;
• Greater use of innovative transportation strategies, starting with multi-rider Lyft and Uber networks; and 
• A technological revolution in housing to reduce construction costs in dense areas. Helpfully, Google, Amazon, and various startups are starting to experiment in this area.

The challenge, he writes:

The thorniest challenge in addressing this issue is that local governments in star cities have little incentive to look after the interests of people who would benefit from moving there but can’t afford to do so. Moreover, they have little incentive to pursue policies that would maximize economic growth and opportunity but would impose unwanted changes on current residents.

We’ll give Johnson the last word:

For employers, the availability of high-quality, affordable housing is a critical factor in the ability to attract and retain skilled workers. For employees, finding housing within the same communities as their jobs mean shorter commutes, more time spent with families and better work-life balance. And for communities, all these elements contribute to the quality of place we all desire.