Elected Officials, Construction Industry Want Jay Inslee To Classify Home Building As ‘Essential’

File photo. Seattle's rental housing market shows more availability than other areas of Washington, like Kittitas and Yakima counties, where new construction hasn't kept up with demand. CREDIT: TED S. WARREN/AP
File photo. Homebuilding groups, county commissioners and members of Congress have asked Gov. Jay Inslee to classify Washington residential home construction as “essential” during the coronavirus “stay home, stay healthy” order. CREDIT: Ted S. Warren/AP


Construction industry advocates are asking Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to allow more home building to continue under his “stay home, stay healthy” order meant to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Those advocates include the Spokane County Board of Commissioners, Congress members Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, industry representatives and newspaper editorial boards like at the Yakima Herald-Republic.

Some construction is still allowed under the stay-at-home order for a few reasons, namely to support essential industries like healthcare, to further a public purpose at government-funded projects, and to avoid the waste of construction materials. 

But those asking for more want another exception: housing. They argue the current memorandum on residential construction will make housing shortages across the state worse. 

“Within Spokane County there is a significant need for affordable housing,” reads a letter sent by Spokane County Commissioners Tuesday. “By issuing a moratorium on development of single-family residences, it will have the effect of further distancing the affordability gap within our community”

At an April 7 press conference, Inslee said it’s too soon to loosen up the rules in the fight against the pandemic.

“As we see more progress and bend this curve down further, there may, and I emphasize ‘may,’ be the ability to allow the industry to come back with certain more restrictions,” Inslee said.

Chelsea Snodgrass, executive director of the Central Washington Home Builders Association, hopes those changes come sooner rather than later. In a letter to the governor, Snodgrass argued that not only does the stay-at-home order have an impact on workers eager for paychecks, it also impacts people eager to move in. 

“Housing is essential,” Snodgrass said. “We’re hearing stories almost daily about people being so close to the end of trying to get their project wrapped up because they have homeowners moving in who maybe had given up a lease or their house is sold and so they’re going to be displaced.” 

Snodgrass adds that it’s unclear why most private housing projects can’t continue at all while government-funded projects can with safety measures. She and others in the industry want to even the playing field.

“We want a safe Washington. We all want to be healthy as well, that’s not what this is about,” Snodgrass said. “Some people feel like we’re not taking it seriously, but we really are. Our industry is one that really has safety built into the fabric of what it means to be a builder.”

Douglas County

Commissioners in Washington’s Douglas County have already taken a small step away from a total construction shutdown. They’ve enacted a proclamation allowing some ongoing residential construction to continue. Commissioner Dan Sutton says the order is meant to protect people from losing money or becoming homeless.

“We have a sole focus and that’s to protect people who could be harmed by not completing their structure,” Commissioner Sutton, who is also on the board of the Chelan-Douglas County Health District, said.

In order for construction to continue, builders must have an affidavit showing an existing purchase and sale agreement approved before March 27. They must also seek authorization from the county planning department and agree to follow social distancing guidelines on site.

The proclamation is narrow and is not an attempt to circumvent Inslee’s “lawful order,” Sutton said. Douglas County’s priority is to protect residents from the pandemic.

“This is no joke, if somebody is out there and trying to abuse [the proclamation], we will stop them. We will shut them down,” Sutton said. 

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