Final: Trip to Olympia to talk Affordable Housing

My family and I came to the US as political refugees in 1986. I remember being excluded from many parts of the democratic process that my peers participated in.   It wasn’t until 2010 that I became a citizen and was able to vote for the first time.  On February 22nd, I went down to Olympia to talk to my representative, Noel Frame.  This was my first time exercising my right to go talk to my district representative about something that affects me and that I care about.  It’s a privilege to live in a country where access to legislators is a basic right of every citizen.  We must not take this for granted.  I do not.

As I embark on my journey in Real Estate Development within Affordable Housing, I realize the importance of affordability for vulnerable members of the community.  For this reason I focused on House Bill 2544 and Senate bill 6239 regarding Affordable Housing and Property Taxes.  Representative Frame was sponsoring these Bills as an avenue to continue promoting affordability.  When I made my appointment in early February, I had read through the documents and noted Section 15 Part 2 on Page 11 regarding the requirement that the owners must abide by in order to be eligible and obtain the property tax credit.  This list of 7 items, I felt, put too much of a burden on the owners of the properties and would dissuade them from going through the whole process.  These items are as follows:

  1. The property owner must file a report at least annually by a date established by the governing authority indicating the following:
    • Family size and annual income for each tenant living in designated affordable housing rental units and a statement that the property is in compliance with affordable housing requirements described in section 5 of this act;
    • A statement of occupancy and vacancy;
    • A schedule of rents charged in market-rate units;
    • A certification that the property has not changed use;
    • A description of changes or improvements;
    • When Rehabilitation is required to meet health and quality standards or evergreen sustainable development building performance standards, a progress report on compliance with rehabilitation plan, budget, and proposed schedule for repairs; and
    • Any other information required to determine compliance with program requirements or to measure program performance.

I felt these items put too much of a burden on owners, and my suggestion was to reduce the requirements or change them in some sort of fashion.  A few days after making my appointment, the Bill was approved and sent to the senate floor for review.  I felt as though this made the purpose of my meeting less significant.  Nonetheless, I met with Representative Frame.  During my visit with Ms. Frame I asked how the Bill was put together.  To my surprise she mentioned there was an organization (HALA) made up of many entities (developers, non profits, etc) that helped write the Bill.  I asked the economics behind the Bill but she was unable to elaborate on them, other than it would result in approximately 3,000 additional units for affordable housing.   I suggested that I was still concerned with the burden placed on the owners of the properties.  Ms. Frame proceeded with informing me that the benefit of this bill is that it is completely voluntary.  Meaning that those that chose to pursue this tax credit, did so knowingly and willing to go through all those steps to forgo the property taxes.  As she mentioned, the savings on some of these properties could be significant and therefore make the burden of presenting the above items worth their time.

My time in Representative Frame’s office was short at 15 minutes.  Even though I was told ahead of the time limit, I was surprised when her assistant opened the door and stated that my time was up and it was time to continue.  I was pleased to see Representative Noel gesture for a few additional minutes so we could finish our discussion.  She made me feel like I was being heard and my concerns were understood.  I am encouraged to have similar discussions in the future.

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