Updating GMA Housing Elements

This webpage contains guidance on planning for housing under the Growth Management Act (GMA), including the new requirements established by House Bill 1220 (2021). 

Planning for Housing in Washington State

Graphic showing housing needs by income level and type of housing
Washington will need 1.1 Million new homes in the next 20 years, with half for households making less than 50% of area median income.

In 2021, the Washington Legislature changed the way communities are required to plan for housing. House Bill 1220 (2021) amended the Growth Management Act (GMA) to instruct local governments to “plan for and accommodate” housing affordable to all income levels. This significantly strengthened the previous goal, which was to encourage affordable housing.

The amended law also directed the Department of Commerce to project future housing needs for jurisdictions by income bracket and made significant updates to how jurisdictions are to plan for housing in the housing element of their comprehensive plans. These new changes to local housing elements include:

  • Planning for sufficient land capacity for housing needs, including all economic segments of the population (moderate, low, very low and extremely low income, as well as emergency housing and permanent supportive housing).
  • Providing for moderate density housing options within Urban Growth Areas (UGAs), including but not limited to duplexes, triplexes and townhomes.
  • Making adequate provisions for housing for existing and projected needs for all economic segments of the community, including documenting programs and actions needed to achieve housing availability.
  • Identifying racially disparate impacts, displacement and exclusion in housing policies and regulations, and beginning to undo those impacts; and identifying areas at higher risk of displacement and establishing anti-displacement policies.

Guidance Materials and Tools

To guide local governments in updating their comprehensive plans and regulations with the new housing requirements, Commerce developed the following guidance, projection tools and training webinars:

Final Guidance

Housing Projections and Tools

Webinars and Trainings

Housing Review Checklist

  • Expanded Housing Checklist (Word) – This optional checklist provides the framework Commerce regional planners will use to review periodic update housing submissions.

Support Materials for Racially Disparate Impacts, Exclusion and Displacement Work

  • In 2023, Commerce leveraged funding from the Legislature to compile data for local governments completing the racially disparate impacts, exclusion, displacement and displacement risk analysis work required under the new housing element requirements. The following data is or will soon become available to support jurisdictions:
    Racially Disparate Impact (RDI) Data Toolkit: This RDI Data Toolkit provides local jurisdictions with a base level of data to use in their analysis, particularly in identifying racially disparate impacts and exclusion.
  • Statewide displacement risk map: Outside of the Central Puget Sound area, there is no widely available displacement risk map local governments may use to understand displacement risk. Commerce has developed a draft statewide displacement risk map for public review through September 2023. Commerce encourages feedback on this statewide displacement risk map at the webinar or by email to laura.hodgson@commerce.wa.gov by September 29, 2023.
  • Examples of RDI analysis from 2021-2023 grantee work: During the 2021-2023 biennium, the Legislature funded a middle housing grant program in the Central Puget Sound region for cities to use towards middle housing planning. The grant included a requirement to analyze racially disparate impacts, displacement and exclusion. Example analyses performed by grantees will be loaded under the “Equity Displacement and Exclusion” section on this EZView webpage.

STEP Housing

HB 1220 (laws of 2021) requires jurisdictions to update their development regulations with respect to emergency shelters, transitional housing, emergency housing, and permanent supportive housing (“STEP” housing, formerly “supportive housing”). The following resources explain what these four housing types are and what laws govern their regulation:

Coming Soon: Model Ordinance for STEP Housing Types

In coordination with the Housing Division, Commerce will be developing the following resources by June 2024 to help local governments regulate “STEP” housing types:

  1. State of the Practice Report to summarize state and federal regulations, existing local practices and best practices for the siting and development of STEP housing.
  2. Model Ordinance to help local jurisdictions develop their own ordinances.
  3. User’s Guide with Best Practices Report to supplement the model ordinance and provide best practices.
  4. Four case studies on successful local implementation of STEP housing.
  5. Communications toolkit to help jurisdictions communicate the benefits, challenges and best practices associated with STEP housing.

Commerce expects to publish the Draft Model Ordinance with User’s Guide with Best Practices Report for a 30-day public comment period starting on or about May 6, 2024. Commerce will also hold a webinar on this material on Tuesday, May 14th from 12:30-2pm. Click here to sign up for the webinar.  

For more information on STEP housing, please contact Laura.Hodgson@commerce.wa.gov or at 360-764-3143.

Other Housing Resources

Housing Survey – December 2022

Housing and homelessness were the top two issues that Washington residents named in a 12-county survey conducted by Commerce and the Puget Sound Regional Council in late 2022. The majority of respondents in every county wanted to see more diverse housing and more affordability, including some types of multi-unit housing in single-family zones.

Housing Guidebooks

WCRER Housing Data

RCW 36.70A.610 directs the Washington Center for Real Estate Research to provide easy access to housing data for local governments in Washington. The Housing Market Data Toolkit provides data for all cities over 10,000 population, and for all counties in the state. This data can be used as a source of information during the preparation of housing needs assessments, developed as part of local comprehensive plans.

A Peninsula Planners’ Forum on February 22, 2021 (Vimeo) shared more information about the housing data and how to use it to understand your community’s housing market. Information on the Housing Market Data Toolkit starts at 1:16:00 and information on how to use this and other data to determine your community’s housing needs starting at 2:27:10. The PowerPoint presentations for the webinar can be found on the Regional Planners’ Forum webpage, under the “Past Regional Planning Forums” heading.

Affordable Housing Advisory Board Data

The Affordable Housing Advisory Board (AHAB) is currently finalizing the state’s 5-year progress report towards meeting statewide affordable housing needs.

Housing Memo Available

Commerce’s Housing Memo: Issues Affecting Housing Availability and Affordability (PDF) addresses barriers to housing production and affordability in Washington. It also provides tools aimed at assisting local governments in improving housing affordability. The memo was requested by the 2017 Legislature’s E2SSB 5254 as part of an update to the Buildable Lands Program and is relevant to cities and counties statewide. 

Housing-Related Grants

Connecting Housing to Infrastructure Program

The Connection Housing to Infrastructure Program (CHIP) has been renewed in 2023 to provide approximately $55.5 million to fund sewer, water or stormwater improvements and/or waived system development charges for new affordable housing projects. Please visit the CHIP webpage to learn more about program requirements. 

Housing Action Plan Grants

The Legislature appropriated $5 million in funding in both the 2019-2021 biennium and the 2021-2023 biennium for cities planning under the GMA to adopt new Housing Action Plans (HAPs), implement actions from adopted HAPs, or adopt code changes to encourage more housing in their communities.

Examples of work performed by the HAP grantees and resources for those looking to encourage more housing in their communities under the actions in RCW 36.70A.600 are available on our Housing EZView webpage. See the tabs titled “Housing Action Plans” and “HB 1923 Code Changes.” For information on the HAPI program, please contact Laura.Hodgson@commerce.wa.gov or 360-764-3143.

GMA Requirements for Planning for Housing

Cities and counties planning under the Growth Management Act (GMA) must include a housing element in their comprehensive plans. The GMA housing goal calls for promoting a variety of residential densities and housing types, planning for and accommodating housing affordable to all economic segments of the population, and preservation of existing housing stock.

The GMA also set standards such that certain classes of housing and residents are to be treated equally. This includes housing for the disabled (RCW 36.70A.410), family daycare providers RCW (36.70A.450) and manufactured housing (RCW 35.21.684).

Statues and Resources