Implementing HB-21 1271: Lessons from Washington State

by: Elliot Weiss, Senior Planner, Community Attributes Inc.

Colorado HB 21-1271 funds three new grant programs for innovative housing policy evaluation and development. In the fall of 2021, the inaugural rounds of funding were awarded to city and county governments. Washington’s HB 1923 Housing Action Plan and Implementation grant is on its third funding cycle. Both programs allow grantees to apply for funding to incentivize policies and plans to achieve higher urban density through evaluation of their development code, targeted upzones, or a housing action plan.

Washington and Colorado’s programs both seek flexibility for communities to pursue housing and regulatory incentives appropriate for local needs and sensitive to the realities facing our communities – ongoing equity challenges like growing housing cost burden and the struggle to find and stay in quality and affordable housing – all of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities across Colorado can look to communities in Washington for best practices for these efforts.

Review Existing Regulations and Align Tools with Market Conditions

Successful housing strategies build off one another. First, a review of existing policy and programs can show what efforts are meeting expectations. And if they’re not, officials will know exactly what to fix to hit their targets, as in the Housing Action Plan for Shoreline, one of the first grant awardees in Washington (Exhibit 1). Then, a housing needs assessment provides a current snapshot of housing supply and demand. Together, these analyses lay out a blueprint of housing demand – including supply, type, location – and the network of current and new strategies that will deliver them.

Utilize Partners In Engagement

Many agencies, companies, and governments share the common goal of access to quality and affordable housing and struggle to reach the most vulnerable and impacted communities. To reach segments of communities that participate at lower rates, partner with organizations already engaging with these individuals. Working parents with young kids are already engaged with the local school district, and the district may be able to facilitate their participation outside of traditional methods of engagement. The best engagement plans are multi-channel and flexible for participants. Community leaders understand better than anyone the needs of their residents – and cities can utilize them to reach every corner of the community.

Make Actions Measurable

Housing policy, programs, and regulations must include action items that are measurable and the right metrics to examine progress. Tacoma’s Equity Index (Exhibit 2) is an interactive data tool of 29 indicators developed for the city’s strategic plan. Performance indicators make strategic plans actionable, facilitate implementation, and ultimately measure a program’s success. Tools like equity index maps can then communicate the change in on-the-ground conditions over time.

Housing is a serious challenge that requires the best of the public and private sectors’ ability to address it. As more states and regions dedicate significant resources to developing strategies to alleviate our communities’ housing burdens, we must share the best practices and lessons we’ve learned with those who are undertaking this crucial work.

Learn more about Community Attributes’ services HERE or email


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