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Washington realtors' lobby spends nearly $1M to push housing bills during football playoffs

A green outline of Washington state with the text '50th out of 50 states in available housing.'
Washington Association of Realtors
A screenshot of one ad paid for by Washington Association of Realtors.

The Washington Association of Realtors has spent nearly a million dollars on ads in the last two months, a lobbyist for the organization said in an interview. It's not election season, but the ads are trying to push lawmakers to pass a series of bills changing how and what housing can be built where.

The ads — which have aired during local broadcasts of NFL football playoffs, among other slots like West Wing reruns, according to lobbyist Nathan Gorton — say that Washington is 50th out of all 50 states when it comes to available housing supply, but that lawmakers in Olympia can act to change that.

The bills state lawmakers are considering would increase the supply of condos, lift regulations that slow down housing creation, and allow "mother-in-law" type accessory dwellings. One of the most sweeping bills would basically rewrite zoning laws statewide, taking the power away from cities over where duplexes, triplexes, up to sixplexes can be built.

That bill is perhaps facing the most pushback from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who say it's important for cities to keep control over their own zoning laws. Critics also say these laws will be a boon to developers and realtors, but for homeowners, property taxes could go up along with property values.

The ads link to a website with a petition. But the priority is to push Washington's housing crisis into more conversations, and keep it in lawmaker's minds.

"We do hope to mobilize the public and say there is an answer, there is a way forward. And then honestly, we also want to keep the pressure on legislators," Gorton said. "I think they're taking the challenge very seriously, and I think we're going to see a number of different bills pass. But, you know, I mean, I've been in this long enough to know that it isn't done until it's done."

And of course, the realtors association is willing to spend close to a million dollars on this because "more development of housing means also more sales of housing," said Zach Wood, an assistant professor of public affairs at Seattle University. "Yes, it could be good for people and affordability overall. Yes, of course, it's still very valuable for realtors."

Gorton said the realtors' lobby is also supporting bills that they say wouldn’t directly benefit them, such as a $4 billion dollar loan the governor wants to use to build more low-income housing.

Since the ads started running, Washington has managed to jump ahead of Connecticut and clinch the 49th spot, Gorton said. The exact amount the realtors’ lobby spent won’t be publicly disclosed until public disclosure commission records for February become available in several weeks.

Scott Greenstone is a former KNKX reporter. His reporting focused on under-covered communities, and spotlighting the powerful people making decisions that affect all of us throughout Western Washington.