A small step forward

Senate Bill 5334 reforms Washington’s Condominium Act, aims to spur condominium development

The prospects of building and developing more affordable housing options in Clark County just got a boost this legislative session. Sitting on the governor’s desk is Senate Bill 5334, which reforms Washington’s Condominium Act after overwhelming support in both chambers of the Legislature. With a focus on maintaining consumer protections while providing more clarity on liability for developers, the goal is to spur condominium development and fulfill a desperate need for mid-level housing statewide.

Development of condo units in Clark County has been nearly nonexistent for the last decade, and the activity that did exist was in the form of higher-priced units. The lack of condominium inventory has contributed to what has been called the “missing middle”- housing options that bridge the gap between renting an apartment or home, to then owning a detached single-family residence. The “missing middle” is also used as downsizing options for older residents, which in turn opens up existing stock of detached single-family homes. Without options like condos and townhouses as part of the housing stock, it creates challenges for residents looking to move into owning a home and raises the prices for the stock that does exist due to the incredible demand. Additionally, the cost of the rental market will continue to rise as more and more people are not able to make the jump from renting to owning.

Before this legislation passed, Washington ranked towards the bottom in regard to condominium development nationwide, and most of the development came in the Seattle area to accommodate their high-tech boom. This was generally due to a lack of clarity on what defined a “construction defect” and other areas of legal liability for both the developer and HOA Boards. The result was an overall avoidance of condominium development with the exception of higher priced units where liability costs could be absorbed.

Many times, when projects were pursued, it was simply a matter of time before the development was engaged in a legal process that negatively impacted the value of the units, sometimes lasting years. This created an unhealthy dynamic that resulted in increased prices for a product that should be available to individuals and families looking to enter into homeownership.

Although this will provide a small amount of much needed relief, housing affordability will continue to be a concern due to lack of land supply, ever increasing fees and cost of regulation as well as a shortage of skilled tradesman.

Lack of affordable housing goes far beyond the effects it has on individuals, families and the social fabric of our community.

When considering expanding or moving to a new area, one of the top priorities of business owners or site selectors is affordable housing. Without affordable housing, finding, attracting and hiring new workers becomes difficult. In addition, the price of housing dictates the compensation levels required to attract employees and if those numbers are higher than other comparable communities, businesses will look elsewhere.

This matters for small businesses as well. Whether a local boutique, grocery, coffee shop or the new hip restaurant, a customer base with disposable income is needed to buy the goods and services offered. Unless housing is affordable, no matter how good the product is, the customers needed for a business to succeed are difficult to find.

With median sales prices continuing to rise and the stock of entry-level housing becoming tighter and tighter, these reforms will ideally welcome long overdue developments of units that will ease the strain on the rental market and provide homeownership opportunities for more residents of Clark County.

Rian Davis is the public affairs director for the Clark County Association of Realtors. He can be reached at rian@ccrealtors.com . Ryan Makinster is the government affairs director for the Building Industry Association of Clark County. He can be reached at ryan@biaofclarkcounty.org.