Seattle Times op-ed questions role Growth Management Act plays in housing affordability

An op-ed in the Seattle Times by three leaders in the real estate community contends it’s time to rethink the way the state manages growth.

The authors note the conflict between the Puget Sound Regional Council and five small, suburban communities that want to plan for more growth than they have been approved for. (We wrote about it here.)

The op-ed states,

…we know that these cities must grow — perhaps at a rate that is uncomfortable and frustrating for some, but inevitable all the same. The fact that it’s happening at a faster pace suggests we need to adjust our current methods for incorporating growth regionally. Planning for growth, including the construction of roads, bridges, water availability and sufficient sewer capacity, sets our cities up for success.

Mandating a lower growth target or not recognizing the inevitable growth that comes from a successful economy can only result in one thing: extraordinary home-price inflation.

Few could have anticipated 25 years ago the intense, rapid growth in the metro area. 

While everyone can and should support urban density, without urban housing options that offer even a second bedroom at an affordable price point, the typical family has no choice but to seek out alternatives.

The homes being built in these smaller cities are generally much more affordable than similar housing in larger cities and job centers. Despite the fact that some cities, including Seattle, say they have capacity to add housing, we are running out of land in urban-core cities to meet demand. Forcing smaller cities to lower their growth targets is the last thing we should be doing to ease our region’s housing-affordability crunch.

Ultimately, there is a point where a growth plan must be aligned with market realities.

Anticipating and managing growth challenges all policymakers. As we wrote last week, millennial migration to Rust Belt cities has been driven by the rising housing costs in the coastal urban areas, like Seattle. Attracting and retaining this next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs has become an economic development strategy for places like Buffalo, Cleveland and St. Louis. In that competition, Washington has the built-in advantage of strong regional economies. But if the state cannot also boast of affordable housing and reasonable commute times, that advantage may be lost.

The Washington Research Council recently published an in-depth look at the Growth Management Act at 25 years, along with a podcast discussing the report. Those looking for ideas for adapting and revising the GMA to the new economic and growth realities would do well to begin with the WRC report.