Hawkins partners with Leavenworth mayor on workforce housing bill

Senator Brad Hawkins is partnering with Leavenworth Mayor Carl Florea on a bill to secure a reliable revenue source to address the city’s workforce housing challenges.

Senate Bill 5513 would provide Chelan County and its cities with flexibility to use up to 1 percent of their existing lodging tax revenues on “workforce” housing projects to assist those earning 60 percent to 120 percent of the area’s median income. The lodging tax, also known as the “hotel-motel tax,” was first implemented by Leavenworth and other cities years ago and varies from a 3-to-5 percent surcharge on overnight stays.

Permitted uses of lodging tax revenues include tourism marketing, special-event promotion, or operations/capital expenditures of tourism-related facilities (RCW 67.28.1815) and limited uses for very low-income housing. Hawkins’ bill would allow Chelan County and its cities to dedicate up to 1 percent of their existing lodging tax revenues to “workforce” housing for the next 10 years, if approved by county commissioners or a city council.

Hawkins is excited to partner with the city of Leavenworth in an effort to address this issue, saying, “Mayor Florea reached out to me with sincere and deep concerns about Leavenworth’s ongoing affordable housing struggles, especially the city’s ‘workforce’ housing issues. I share those same concerns. We developed a bill idea that does not create a new tax, but rather provides governments with additional flexibility for use of its existing tax revenues.

“The city of Leavenworth is in a unique situation because, in many respects, it isn’t struggling to attract tourists,” added Hawkins. “The real struggle now is that the people providing essential services in the city cannot afford to live there and any available houses are quickly being purchased as second homes or short-term rentals. With every passing month, the Leavenworth community is essentially losing its sense of community. That’s heartbreaking.”

As drafted, the bill could also benefit communities like Chelan, Wenatchee, and the county’s unincorporated areas, said Hawkins.

This isn’t the first time Hawkins and the city of Leavenworth have partnered on legislation. In 2018, the Legislature approved and the governor signed Hawkins’ Senate Bill 6055, which provided the city expanded ways to dispose of brush and yard waste following boundary changes to the state’s apple maggot quarantine area. Hawkins is hopeful he and the city will have similar success with Senate Bill 5513.

What others are saying about SB 5513:

“I am excited to work with Sen. Hawkins to enact this bill that would allow us to begin addressing our critical shortage of housing for all segments of our workforce. One of the prime motivators of my decision to run for mayor was a desire to provide housing that will keep us a sustainable, working community and not just a resort. Not only is this critical for the character of our residential community, but it is also critical for the long-term sustainability of our tourism economy. This goal can only be reached if we can bring options, and dollars, to the table that will enable us to develop housing outside the speculative market. I can’t thank Sen. Hawkins enough for understanding this and wanting to aid us in this way.”

Leavenworth Mayor Carl Florea

“In Chelan County, where tourism plays a major role in an overall healthy economy, our businesses are having trouble attracting workers when housing costs continue to climb. We support a bill that allows some flexibility in lodging tax revenues. If Senate Bill 5513 is passed, Chelan County and our tourist-dependent cities would be able to provide more workforce housing that supports tourism and, in the end, builds upon our economy.”

Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay

“Chelan Valley Housing Trust is very thankful Senator Hawkins is introducing legislation that presents an effective and creative solution to address our local housing issues. The proposed legislation would provide important sustainable revenue to develop housing attainable to local wage earners.”

Chelan Valley Housing Trust Executive Director Steve Wilkinson

.Hawkins has prefiled the bill for consideration in the 2022 legislative session.