This Year’s Battles in Olympia: RHAWA Speaks with Chester Baldwin

Posted By: Corey Hjalseth 2024 Legislative Session, Policy News,

Just as every new year starts and the holiday season comes to a close, you can be sure that another Washington Legislative Session is here. Legislators from all over Washington State are coming together in Olympia to decide the future of the Evergreen State. This year is a short session so all relevant topics must be discussed and moved on within just sixty days. We know many issues are top of mind for lawmakers and their constituents, but one of the biggest items to be discussed will be the cost and undersupply of housing, and what are the best strategies to lower costs and increase housing production? “Rent Control of course,” I say sarcastically. 

In all seriousness, rent control will once again be a hotly debated topic in the 2024 legislative session and RHAWA will be in Olympia to advocate for you, our members. RHAWA, along with our partner organizations, will be working diligently to make sure our message of why rent control is terrible for housing is conveyed to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. 

I had the privilege of sitting down with RHAWA’s Chief Lobbyist in Olympia, Chester Baldwin for RHAWA’s podcast, “Housing Matters”. We spoke at length about what to expect from this short 60-day session in Olympia. I asked him why we have been having such issues building enough housing in general.

“Freddie and Fannie are underfunding the state of Washington. If you were to talk to them, they’ve said this. Not by choice, but just because there are not projects coming in from the state of Washington at the same rate that they are coming in from other places. The reason is people don’t want to build housing in the state. Not nobody, but you know we’re second to California in the amount of regulation and especially environmental regulation we put onto housing,” Baldwin said. “If you look at California as a model and you want to be like them, we have a problem. They are losing housing twice as fast to wildfires alone as they are building it, and the reason is, it takes between ten and twenty years to permit a subdevelopment.”

He went on to say that Washington is not yet on par with our neighbors to the South, “We’re not quite that bad yet. We’re like three years, three and a half years, but all of that, that is all time that has a cost associated with it. The holding cost of that property for that period of time is significant.”

We spoke about a great bill that RHAWA will be putting forward in Olympia. RHAWA’s bill called the “Tenant Assistance Program”, or TAP, is designed to help tenants cover rent for the short-term in the event such as a job loss or an unexpected medical issue. So “Turn on the TAP” if they need short-term help to stay in their housing. COVID showed that early money is the best money to keep everyone in their housing and help get residents back on their feet.

“If we focused our money on those folks and helping to make sure they can bridge that gap between where their finances might be and where the rent is, then we can really do something to keep everybody in this market. We can keep the housing provider, providing the housing, we keep the tenant housed, and the state of Washington comes in and puts a little bit of money in on behalf of the tenant.”

I will be speaking with Chester after the legislative session as well to do a debrief of sorts and talk about how everything went during RHAWA’s time in Olympia. 

For my full interview with Chet, look for the RHAWA podcast “Housing Matters” wherever you find your podcasts. Or if you prefer a video version, that is also available on RHAWA’s YouTube channel.