NW REporter

News In Brief: January 2022

  • According to Gene Balk of the Seattle Times, a new poll of county residents found support for a handful of approaches that would increase the supply of homes, including one that’s highly controversial: The elimination of single-family home zoning – and not just in Seattle, but in the suburbs, too. The survey of 501 King County adults was conducted by polling firm DHM Research for Quinn Thomas, a Seattle and Portland marketing communications company. Zach Knowling, a senior vice president at Quinn Thomas, said the firm prepared the report “to help inform the real estate industry and regional leaders about key housing trends in the Seattle area.” The survey included a question about policy changes that could help increase the housing supply in King County. Respondents were asked about their level of support for seven potential remedies. It found a slim majority of King County adults – 55% – support the idea of allowing larger apartments and condominiums in neighborhoods currently zoned for single-family homes in the city of Seattle. The level of support was only a little lower for the same change in suburban neighborhoods, at 51%. While the survey shows a majority of King County residents want to see single-family home areas opened up to apartments and condos, there’s an interesting twist: Most of them would rather not live in those types of housing units themselves. The survey found that county residents overwhelmingly desire a single-family home, with 83% choosing that as their preferred housing type. It’s clear from the survey that King County residents see more development as one way to help make homes more affordable. A solid majority – around 63% – wants to see more housing allowed on underdeveloped land, which could mean anything from unused vacant lots to low-rise buildings in upzoned areas. Another change that appeals to the majority of county residents is to open up public golf courses to housing development, supported by 53%. The highest-scoring change, among the seven presented in the survey, is converting empty office buildings into apartments, with roughly 78% support. That’s an easy thing to support – there are no obvious down sides to it. But it’s also not a real solution to the county’s housing-affordability crisis. Surprisingly, there isn’t a huge difference in support between renters and homeowners. There also aren’t significant differences in the level of support among the various age groups, along racial lines, or by degree of educational attainment.

    Only two of the survey’s seven choices on the question about increasing the housing supply did not receive majority support. Reducing parking requirements for new home construction still had a strong showing, at 47%. Allowing more houseboats on our lakes only appealed to about 38%.

  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing a plan to offer rebates for new and used electric vehicles, on top of the sales tax exemption that currently exists for such vehicles in the state. Under the proposal, rebates of up to $7,500 would be available for new electric sedans under $55,000 and under $80,000 for new vans, sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks. The rebate drops to $5,000 for used vehicles and a $1,000 rebate would be offered for zero-emission motorcycles and e-bikes. People would be eligible for rebates if they make under $250,000 a year, or under $500,000 a year for joint tax filer households. Low-income drivers, individuals with an income of below $61,000, would be eligible for an additional $5,000 rebate toward the purchase of a new or used electric vehicle.
  • Lincoln is the least reliable brand, according to the new Consumer Reports Auto Reliability Survey. The predicted reliability rankings for 2022 models are based on feedback from subscribers about their experiences with more than 300,000 vehicles. Tesla came in next to last on the list. Also near the bottom: Jeep, Genesis, Volkswagen, and Mercedes. The 2022 Tesla Y was named one of the 10 least reliable vehicles. The trouble spots reported with the $60,000 car included body hardware, paint and trim, climate systems, noises and leaks. On the other end of the spectrum, Consumer Reports’ survey found that Lexus makes the most reliable vehicles, followed by Mazda, Toyota, Infiniti and Buick. Honda came in sixth, followed by Subaru, Acura, Nisan, and Mini. According to Consumer Reports, the 2022 Lexus GX SUV should be the most reliable vehicle, rating a perfect score of 100.
  • According to the Seattle Times, Seattle developers are hinting at potential legal action against the city as they claim a mandated affordable housing fee is making it harder for them to build town homes in a fast-growing city with a dire need for more housing. In a letter delivered to Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Seattle City Council last week, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties argues town house developers are often unable to take advantage of extra density they’re supposed to be able to tap in exchange for fees they pay toward affordable housing.  The association says the situation has contributed to a drop-off in new applications for town home construction permits and put the housing affordability program “in jeopardy.” The city’s building department agrees permit applications are down but disputes whether the fee is to blame. Although the city says the fees have not discouraged overall development, townhome builders say they’re not getting much out of the deal. Often, the denser zoning allows them to add a fourth floor to town homes, but developers contend many homebuyers are not interested in walking up and down four stories. And paying the fee up front can complicate efforts to get construction loans, they say. The Master Builders Association estimates Seattle developers pay an average of about $32,700 per town house unit, based on a survey of its members.
  • The Snohomish County Council passed an ordinance that will increase sales tax to fund affordable housing and mental health programs. The council voted 3-2 to add one tenth of one percent in sales tax — equating to one penny for every $10 spent — in order to use for several county programs. Snohomish County’s new, higher sales tax rate starts on April 1.
  • A new payroll tax on employees in Washington state is being delayed. Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington Democratic legislative leaders announced Friday an agreement to push back the new WA Cares payroll levy as they address issues with the new long-term care program. WA Cares was intended to be a first of its kind in the nation social-insurance program to help people pay for care for themselves in old age or sickness. WA Cares Fund created a 0.58% payroll deduction on workers that was set to begin on Jan. 1, 2022. But there have been concerns, including people learning that they will pay into the program but never receive any benefits.
  • Motorists should expect to see gas prices continue to rise, at least during the first half of the new year. Late December, GasBuddy released its Fuel Price Outlook for 2022, projecting the yearly national average for a gallon of gas will be $3.41. They predict the average household will pay $2,341 for gas during the year, up from 2021’s average of $1,977. The outlook lays out the highest daily averages for major cities. They range from $3.50 to $3.75 in Houston to $5.25 to $5.65 in San Francisco. The national average for a gallon of gas could fall below $3 by the end of next year.
  • A decade ago, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in the landmark McCleary case that the state was failing to uphold its state constitutional duty to fund basic education. But that case stopped short of changing the funding system for building construction and improvements. Now, a lawyer in the McCleary case has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a small rural district in southwestern Washington. It argues the state is also violating the constitution by failing to ensure all students learn in safe and modern school buildings. The lawsuit says wealthy districts tend to vote in favor of taxing themselves for capital improvements, while poorer ones may not.