Housing and homelessness topped a list of 12 issues in a new survey that asked Washington state residents to rank their top two problems facing the state. The Department of Commerce partnered with the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) to conduct the 12-county survey in late 2022. Other issues on the list included crime and public safety, traffic and transportation, climate change and health care.
“This survey shows that across the state, people clearly recognize the direct correlations between lack of available housing, housing costs and overall quality of life,” said Commerce Director Lisa Brown. “Creating more types of housing accessible for all income levels strengthens communities, and we are working with local governments and their public and private partners to make that happen.”
It is estimated that Washington state will grow by nearly two million people over the next three decades. Commerce has found that a million more homes will be needed by 2044, a deficit that increases the pressure on communities to find solutions.
In the survey, four times more people rated the cost of housing as a top issue compared to transportation and traffic. Additionally, 76% of the 6,000 respondents said they were directly impacted or knew someone directly impacted by the cost and availability of housing, and 49% said it was difficult or very difficult to find affordable housing.
With rising prices and low vacancy rates, many households (about 14% of respondents) have been displaced due to housing costs, eviction, or foreclosure.
“These survey results are something every city should know about,” said Bryan Wahl, PSRC executive board member and mayor pro tem for the city of Mountlake Terrace. “Our residents expect local officials to address housing, remove barriers and ensure more housing choices and affordable options are available.”
Two-thirds of respondents believed their communities need more diverse and affordable types of housing. Digging deeper, 58% thought this should include “middle housing,” such as triplexes, in single-family zones if the new units met the zone’s standards.
The majority also said that, when it comes to adding multifamily units in their communities, “design matters.” Overall, nearly three-fourths of respondents preferred that new housing be in walkable neighborhoods close to town centers.
Commerce is currently working with communities to plan for more housing and greater housing diversity. The main purpose of the survey was to gain a better understanding of housing issues from a broad cross section of people.
By the end of 2024, cities and counties in the central Puget Sound region must update their comprehensive plans and local codes to accommodate their portion of projected housing needs and take other actions under the state’s growth management laws. Local governments outside the central Puget Sound have due dates in 2025, 2026 and 2027 to do the same.