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WA House passes transit-oriented housing bill

by GABRIEL DAVIS
Staff Writer | February 23, 2024 1:00 AM

OLYMPIA — House Bill 2160, promoting transit-oriented housing developments, passed with a floor vote of 56 to 40 during a Feb. 13 floor debate. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Julia Reed, D-Seattle, has moved on to the Senate for further consideration.

The bill requires cities in fully planning counties, such as Grant County, to conform to certain requirements and limitations for housing near transit systems.

Reed spoke about the bill during the Jan. 9 hearing.

“The bill before you addresses that urgent need for housing in our state, the state with the fewest number of housing units per household than any other, by making it possible to build new, denser housing around our most used and most heavily invested in transit modes, rail, light rail and bus rapid transit lines,” she said. 

Committee staff member Serena Dolly gave a brief summary of the bill during the first public hearing Jan. 9. 

“House Bill 2160 prohibits fully planning cities from enacting or enforcing any development regulation within a station area that prohibits multifamily housing, where any other residential use would be allowed, with some exceptions,” Dolly said. “A city also may not subject the housing to a maximum density requirement or a maximum floor area ratio below what it is established for transit-oriented development density under the bill.”

Dolly defined what constitutes a station area.

“A station area under the bill is defined as one half-mile walking distance of an entrance to a train station with a stop on a rail or fixed guideway system, and one quarter-mile walking distance of a stop on a bus rapid transit route that features fixed transit assets that indicate permanent high capacity service,” she said. 

The bill also promotes affordable housing near transit centers, requiring that at least 10% of all new housing constructed within a station area be affordable housing.

Reed elaborated on the bill in a Feb. 15 announcement from the House Democrats.

“Currently, we’re 150,000-250,000 units short of meeting our housing needs,” Reed said. “This is an easy way to increase that supply while reducing sprawl.”  

Ryan Donohue, chief advocacy officer for Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County and Kittitas County, testified during the public hearing.

“We're here in strong support of HB 2160, because we need more homes in more places, especially along our transit corridors,” he said. “Housing near transit centers is key to many housing options and to better housing options, especially for low-income families.

Washington Low Income Housing Alliance Director of Policy and Advocacy Michele Thomas testified at the bill’s second public hearing Jan. 25, discussing Gov. Jay Inslee’s directive to increase housing units and affordable housing in Washington, particularly in areas that are “upzoned,” meaning zoning is modified to allow more housing density.

“As Washington seeks to build over one million new homes in the next 20 years, of which over half need to be affordable and subsidized, we need to ensure that our upzones intentionally center on affordable housing development,” Thomas said. “If we fail to do this, we will fail to build the over 500,000 new homes needed to ensure that all households have a place in our communities. House Bill 2160 is striking a balance that works and it's more than fair as we, by design, increase the value of land near transit.”

Executive Director of the Washington State Transit Association Justin Leighton said transit-oriented development is important to supporting public transportation but also expressed some concerns with the bill.

“One kind of cautionary area that I am watching is that we have to be cognizant that there are some areas that are just now trying to establish (Bus Rapid Transit) in our communities, and when we put transit in the middle of a city's planning decision, it makes it difficult for our transit agencies to implement more transit if they get pressure from a city to not add that transit capacity,” Leighton said. “If it makes the city have to rezone areas, meaning if an agency wants to put in BRT through a city and they don't want to upzone, they might really work hard to force the transit agency not to add that capacity.”

Dan Bertolet, senior director of think tank Sightline Institute’s Housing and Urbanism program, said the organization supports housing development near transit but the bill falls short of addressing Washington’s housing crisis.

“We all want affordable housing in these station area areas, and we understand how critically important it is for people who use transit,” Bertolet said. “The issue is that affordability requirements can stop the building of housing, and that effect varies by a huge amount depending on where you are and the strength of the real estate market.

Bill Clarke, policy director for Washington Realtors, also said the challenge with the 10% affordability requirement is that it may deter developers from areas around transit and therefore not promote more housing supply.

“Even in areas with no affordability requirements, you're still not seeing private investment,” Clarke said. “Our concern is, if you have to make it more expensive to build (transportation-oriented development) projects, either the funding goes into non-TOD areas, or it leaves the state altogether.”

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com. 




    Rep. Julia Reed, D-Seattle, pictured, sponsored House Bill 2160 promoting transit-oriented housing developments, which passed with a floor vote of 56 to 40 and is now being considered by the Senate.
 
 
    House Bill 2160 passed the Washington House of Representatives during a floor vote Feb. 13 at the Washington State Capitol Building, pictured. The bill promotes transit-oriented housing with a requirement that at least 10% of that housing be affordable.
 
 
  
    A train pulls into a train station, which would be considered a “station area,” around which Washington state’s House Bill 2160, which promotes housing development near transit centers, would come into effect.