By David Crowell JD, Director of Governmental & Public Affairs at Seattle King County REALTORS®.
Despite a challenging environment for local government advocacy during the past several months of COVID-19 restrictions, including constraints on in-person meetings with public officials and shifting political environments, the members of the Government & Public Affairs team at Seattle King County REALTORS® (SKCR) can claim several successes.
Perhaps inspired by Helen Keller’s well-known sentiment, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much,” the government affairs team of staff, housing specialists and Realtor volunteers advocate for legislation to boost housing supply throughout several of King County’s 39 jurisdictions.
Activities during 2021 focused on taxation, real estate signage and housing affordability, as well as fair housing, increased housing supply and opportunities and racial equity.
Recent advocacy included Realtor-supported legislation (HB 1923) that provided cities with access to growth management grants of up to $100,000 from the Washington State Department of Commerce. The grants assist cities in adopting new Housing Action Plans (HAPs) and Housing Action Plan Implementation (HAPI) to meet their housing plans. Of 44 communities that received a total of $3.5 in grant awards in November 2021, 18 were in King County.
SKCR’s housing specialists engaged with several of these cities, including Algona, Bellevue, Bothell, Covington, Kenmore, Renton, SeaTac and Seattle to serve as resources for updating land use codes to increase residential building capacity, housing options (e.g., Accessory Dwelling Units) and to ease or streamline regulations.
In Seattle, SKCR is well positioned to help guide efforts to rename the single-family zone to the residential zone, a process that could increase housing opportunities and racial equity, minimize displacement and maintain quality of life.
Taxation is another topic of particular interest to SKCR, its members and their clients.
The association successfully supported expansion of the Multifamily Property Tax Exemption (MFTE) in cities throughout King County. This valuable tool provides tax relief on eligible multi-family housing in exchange for income- and rent-restricted units, while enabling the private sector to create income-qualified housing and historic preservation.
In Bellevue, SKCR worked with a broad coalition to make amendments to Bellevue’s MFTE. The effort spanned many months, resulting in City Council adoption of the coalition recommendation that not only increased access to affordable units, but also yielded expanded areas where the program may be used.
Another focal point for SKCR’s advocacy activities involves real estate signage. It is diligent in monitoring sign codes countywide in keeping with industry beliefs that signage is an important tool in helping the public locate homes and in promoting fair housing goals. As a service to its members, SKCR maintains a comprehensive sign code matrix for a tri-county area and has a video that provides an overview of “do’s” and “don’ts.”
SKCR is keenly interested in elections, whether for candidates, school levies and bonds, or other concerns. As members know: “Realtors don’t just sell homes. They sell neighborhoods and quality of life.” Voter guides are produced and circulated to nearly 17,000 industry professionals before primary and general elections in King County. The Government & Public Affairs committee is routinely asked to consider endorsing levy and bond proposals from school districts throughout the county.
During any given year, volunteers also conduct interviews with candidates for public office using a questionnaire and rating guide to assess which office-seekers align with Realtor values and support legislation that encourages housing affordability, availability, and ownership, along with more housing options. The ratings also help identify candidates who support issues that enable members’ businesses to be more successful.
This year also featured several annual events — both virtual and in-person — including:
• The association’s annual Housing Issues Briefing which focused on “missing middle” housing opportunities.
• The annual “Hill Day” event in Olympia when Realtors had opportunities to interact with legislators and their key contacts.
• The Realtors Environmental Council (TREC) project, a “boots on the ground” day of service to support stewardship of parks and open spaces.
As believers in collaboration, SKCR often joins with other organizations with shared priorities. Examples include membership in the Coalition for More Housing Choices, the Bellevue Chamber Steering Committee on UW Housing Research and Washington REALTORS®. Realtors championed HB 1335, a measure legislators approved nearly unanimously that will help property owners purge unlawful racial covenants and deed restrictions from their property records.
SKCR’s government affairs activities are focused on protecting and promoting the right to own, transfer and use real property. Together with a network of industry partners, including affiliate members, the 7,500-member association helps Realtors adhere to a code of ethics and serve clients with best practices and the highest standards.
David Crowell has led the government affairs activities at the Seattle King County REALTORS® for 33 years and is credited with “too numerous to mention” accomplishments. He is retiring at year end.