Townhouses in Fremont
Missing middle homes, like ADUs, backyard cottages, mother-in-law suites, duplexes, triplexes, low-rise apartments or townhouses, have long fit into urban neighborhoods, often providing more affordable rental and purchase options than single, detached houses. (Photo courtesy of Sightline Institute)

A major­i­ty of vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton favor leg­is­la­tion that would raise rev­enue to sup­port hous­ing projects across the Ever­green State, despite stri­dent oppo­si­tion from the Real­tors and oth­er pow­er­ful busi­ness inter­ests, accord­ing to our 2024 win­ter sur­vey of Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers, which field­ed last month.

The Afford­able Homes Act (HB 2276 / SB 6191) is prime spon­sored by Rep­re­sen­ta­tive April Berg (D‑44th Dis­trict: Sno­homish Coun­ty) and Sen­a­tor Noel Frame (D‑36th Dis­trict: Seat­tle). It was heard ear­li­er this ses­sion but has not yet received a floor vote in either cham­ber. The House iter­a­tion of the bill is cur­rent­ly in the Rules Com­mit­tee. The 2024 leg­isla­tive ses­sion con­cludes on Thurs­day, so law­mak­ers would have to move quick­ly to get it to Gov­er­nor Inslee’s desk.

But that would be worth doing, espe­cial­ly giv­en their refusal to pass a bevy of oth­er bills that would have helped Wash­ing­to­ni­ans, par­tic­u­lar­ly rent stabilization.

54% of respon­dents sur­veyed by our poll­ster said they strong­ly or some­what sup­port­ed the Afford­able Homes Act, while 32% were opposed. 14% said they were not sure. Respon­dents were pro­vid­ed with not only a descrip­tion of what the bill does, but also argu­ments for and against it, includ­ing the Real­tors’ strongest argu­ments in oppo­si­tion, which they have been trot­ting out at every oppor­tu­ni­ty. How­ev­er, a major­i­ty of like­ly 2024 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers found the argu­ments in favor of the leg­is­la­tion more per­sua­sive than the Real­tors’ argu­ments against.

Take a look:

QUESTION: Leg­is­la­tors are debat­ing a bill that would raise and ded­i­cate more mon­ey to afford­able hous­ing by restruc­tur­ing the real estate excise tax. The bill would exempt the first $750,000 of a prop­er­ty sale, while adding a mod­est 1% tax on high val­ue prop­er­ty sales over $3.025 mil­lion. Oppo­nents like the Real­tors say that tax increas­es on real estate, espe­cial­ly dur­ing a time of low hous­ing sup­ply and high inter­est rates, would cre­ate more mar­ket uncer­tain­ty. They also say the tax increas­es would apply to vacant land intend­ed for devel­op­ment of afford­able mul­ti­fam­i­ly and sin­gle-fam­i­ly hous­ing. Pro­po­nents counter that the bill would cut tax­es for 98% of tax­pay­ers who would pay the real estate excise tax when they sell their prop­er­ty, while rais­ing approx­i­mate­ly $396 mil­lion through 2029 for afford­able hous­ing projects that are des­per­ate­ly need­ed in Wash­ing­ton. Do you strong­ly sup­port, some­what sup­port, some­what oppose, or strong­ly oppose restruc­tur­ing the real estate excise tax to raise and ded­i­cate more mon­ey to afford­able hous­ing, while cut­ting tax­es for 98% of taxpayers?


  • Sup­port: 54% 
    • Strong­ly sup­port: 27%
    • Some­what sup­port: 27%
  • Oppose: 32%
    • Some­what oppose: 9%
    • Strong­ly oppose: 23%
  • Not sure: 14%

Our sur­vey of 789 like­ly 2024 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field from Tues­day, Feb­ru­ary 13th through Wednes­day, Feb­ru­ary 14th, 2024.

The poll uti­lizes a blend­ed method­ol­o­gy, with auto­mat­ed phone calls to land­lines (42%) and online answers from respon­dents recruit­ed by text (58%).

It was con­duct­ed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling (PPP) for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, and has a mar­gin of error of +/- 3.5% at the 95% con­fi­dence interval.

Accord­ing to House non­par­ti­san staff, HB 2276 would:

  • Increase the “ceil­ing” for the Tier 1 1.1 per­cent state real estate excise tax (REET) from $525, 000 to $750, 000 begin­ning Jan­u­ary 1, 2025.
  • Impose a new real estate trans­fer tax (RETT) of 1 per­cent on the val­ue of the sell­ing price over $3.025 million.
  • Direct the rev­enue from RETT to be divid­ed between accounts cur­rent­ly receiv­ing REET mon­eys and the Wash­ing­ton Hous­ing Trust Fund, Apple Health and Homes Account, the Afford­able Hous­ing for All Account, the new Devel­op­men­tal Dis­abil­i­ties Hous­ing and Ser­vices Account, and the new Hous­ing Sta­bil­i­ty Account.
  • Cre­ate a REET exemp­tion for cer­tain sales or trans­fers of prop­er­ties that qual­i­fy for a prop­er­ty tax exemp­tion that will be used for a com­mu­ni­ty purpose.

Here’s a fact sheet from Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Berg:

Afford­able Homes Act Primer

The Real­tors dis­like the Afford­able Homes Act so much that they’re run­ning TV spots oppos­ing the bill — a lot of them. The ads, which can be seen in between net­work pro­gram­ming on local TV sta­tions, appear to have been cre­at­ed by out of state con­sul­tants. They make it sound as though the bill will dev­as­tate access to hous­ing, even though the leg­is­la­tion would gen­er­ate fund­ing for the Home Secu­ri­ty Fund, the Apple Health & Homes Account, devel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties hous­ing and ser­vices, and the Hous­ing Trust Fund, which includes sup­ports to sta­bi­lize low-income hous­ing and pro­vide farm­work­er housing.

Many indi­vid­ual real­tors dis­agree with the Real­tor line. In Jan­u­ary, two agreed to go on the record in sup­port of the leg­is­la­tion at the time that Berg unveiled it.

“This bill is good for my clients. It will mean that many prop­er­ties sold in Spokane Coun­ty – includ­ing the vast major­i­ty, if not all of the ones that my clients will sell – will receive a REET reduc­tion. Reduc­ing REETs for most prop­er­ty sell­ers while cre­at­ing a new, ded­i­cat­ed way to pay for the afford­able hous­ing that my com­mu­ni­ty needs is a win-win,” said Latrice Williams, a real­tor from Spokane.

“We have an afford­able hous­ing cri­sis through­out our com­mu­ni­ties. It is neg­a­tive­ly impact­ing small and large busi­ness­es, school dis­tricts, indi­vid­u­als, and fam­i­lies – it is indis­putable. As a real estate agent and car­ing com­mu­ni­ty mem­ber of King and Island Coun­ties, I have a mul­ti-lev­el per­spec­tive on this,” said Peter Wolf, a for­mer board mem­ber of the Seat­tle-King Coun­ty Realtors.

“We need to do some­thing about it. Adding a 1% trans­fer tax on prop­er­ties that sell for over $3.025 mil­lion is a rea­son­able and effec­tive way to help increase the sup­ply of the afford­able homes that we so des­per­ate­ly need. For the record, the REET is paid by the sell­er – not the buy­er. This will not increase the list price of prop­er­ty for sale. The list­ing price is dic­tat­ed by what the mar­ket will bear and by what the buy­er can afford. Not by tax­es and not by what prof­it the sell­er wish­es to make.”

All good points. It’s a shame that the Wash­ing­ton Asso­ci­a­tion of Real­tors and oth­er busi­ness inter­ests aligned with them are work­ing so fever­ish­ly to stop this leg­is­la­tion when they could be work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly with sup­port­ers of the bill to pass it. Shel­ter is a basic human neces­si­ty, and we know from cen­turies of expe­ri­ence that the for-prof­it pri­vate sec­tor can­not be relied upon to ensure that every­one in our soci­ety is tak­en care of. That’s why we need pub­lic resources like Apple Health & Homes, which the Afford­able Homes Act would boost fund­ing for.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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