Two bills that would extend fees that provide one of the largest sources of funding for homeless services and affordable housing are up for debate in Olympia, and it’s making officials in King County nervous.
Document recording fees are surcharges attached to some real estate transactions assessed by the county. The lion’s share of the existing fees is set to expire in 2019 unless the legislature intervenes to extend them.
One bill, championed by Rep. Nicole Macri (D-Seattle) increases the fee that the county may charge by $50 to a total of $90, giving a large boost to the amount of money that King County could collect. The bill also makes the charge permanent, removing the threat of the money disappearing quietly without future debate.
A competing bill in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Joe Fain (R-South King County) maintains the fee at its current rate, $40, and extends it until 2027, at which point it would expire without further legislative action.
If neither bill passes, the amount that King County could assess on these real estate transactions would drop to $10 in June 2019. It sounds abstract, but the consequences for King County would be very real — roughly $20 million over two years, said King County Councilmember Joe McDermott.
“I need the renewal of document recording fee in order to continue work on homelessness,” McDermott said.
The fee is the only dedicated source of funding authorized by the state to address homelessness. In 2016, King County raised $8.5 million through the measure, the majority of which was then used by All Home to fund its various programs and grants.
Although both bills at minimum preserve the status quo, the senate bill also creates a tax exemption for housing projects that make at least 25 percent of the units affordable to people making no more than 60 percent of the area median income and forces counties to change the way they assess the amount of land suitable for building housing and other projects, known as a buildable land report.
That last provision has received pushback, primarily from less populous counties that believe the new requirement would be expensive and staff may not have the capacity to execute.
McDermott was circumspect about the buildable land report, saying that he wants a “realistic” report that doesn’t cater to builders or preservationists. His focus, however, remains the document recording fee.
“I’m optimistic,” he said. “But I’m concerned enough that I’m working the issue, and taking the time to talk to you about it.”