Guess what group is the #3 lobbiest in Olympia so far this year (by dollars spent)? If you guessed “the real estate industry” (primarily the Washington Association of Realtors), you are correct. Since January, they have spent 1.85 million dollars to convince your legislature to do… well, I’m not sure what they want them to do.
Lobbyists have plied politicians with nearly $2 million of wining, dining and contributions so far this year. They also fattened their own wallets with $21.8 million in pay and expense money for their efforts to influence state policies and spending.
The top spending categories in Washington were much the same as they were in past years, with the real estate and development sector moving up to third-highest spender, compared with eighth-highest last year.
I guess they have a lot of money to burn. So what exactly are they trying to accomplish? Let’s ask a Realtor.
Sam Pace, a Realtor and legislative steering committee member for the Washington Association of Realtors, said that was no accident.
“Here’s the deal. We’ve got education, health care and the Puget Sound Initiative as top-of-mind, front-of-radar-screen issues of the Legislature,” he said. “We needed to get the housing affordability crisis higher on the legislators’ radar screen.”
Okay, so they racheted up their spending to go from 8th-biggest spender to 3rd so they could complain about a “crisis” that they helped create. Great, then what?
Pace said that because housing prices have skyrocketed, only about 2 percent of the homes on the market in King County are affordable to families who are making the median income or less.
“In January there were a total of nine city homes that were available in Seattle that were affordable to a family making the median wage or less,” Pace said.
I’m still missing the part where spending 1.85 million dollars was necessary. You would have to be pretty willfully ignorant not to know that homes have become ridiculously unaffordable in Seattle. What are they really trying to accomplish down there?
The association spent $1.3 million on an ad campaign to raise public awareness as well as its own profile in Olympia. [That is a reference to It’s a Priority.]
Pace said it worked.
“We made real progress in helping to elevate the level of debate and the understanding that housing is an issue and there’s something we can do something about for working families,” he said.
I’m not really that much of a political junkie, so I’m having a hard time translating phrases like “elevate the debate” and “the understanding that housing is an issue” into anything meaningful. Seriously, what exactly are they working toward with all that money? Were any specific bills proposed? Have they suggested any alleged solutions to the “crisis”?
I want to hear what specific actions the Washington Realtors would like the legislature to take that they think will somehow magically make housing more affordable. In my experience, government “solutions” to problems like these usually involve pouring money into the demand side of the equation, with subsidies, grants, and loan programs. How they expect to help home buying to become affordable by increasing demand for it is beyond me.
The only government intervention that I can think of that wouldn’t make the problem worse would be to decrease demand by enforcing stricter lending standards. But I’ll bet that isn’t what the Washington Realtors have in mind as they “elevate the debate.” Anyone want to take me up on that wager?
(Chris McGann, Seattle P-I, 07.01.2007)