Affordable Housing Funding Sources
This page provides an overview of many of the funding sources that cities and counties in Washington State can use to provide or incentivize the development of affordable housing.
It is part of MRSC's series on Affordable Housing.
Cities and counties of every size are grappling with a lack of affordable housing for low-wage workers and their families. Part of the reason for this is that the financial returns from low-income housing developments are not high enough to attract traditional banking institutions and developers. Housing developments are usually financed based on high market rents or sale prices that will guarantee the repayment of construction loans to banks and result in enough profit for developers to take on the many risks of development. As a result, most housing is constructed for residents at or above median income levels.
However, local governments can use certain public funding sources to encourage the construction of affordable housing for low-income populations. These funding sources include local taxes, tax incentive programs for developers, and state or federal grant programs. Some of the grant programs are “block grants” that are awarded based upon certain formulas, while other grants are awarded on a competitive basis.
For a listing of all available state grant programs for affordable housing, see the Office of the State Treasurer’s Washington Fund Directory: Housing, Infrastructure & Economic Development. Brief summaries of most of these grant programs are provided below.
Housing & Related Services Sales Tax
Any county may impose a sales and use tax up to 0.1% for housing and related services, and any city or town may impose the same sales tax if the county has not done so first (RCW 82.14.530). The total sales tax rate may not exceed 0.1% — if a city has already imposed this sales tax and the county imposes the same sales tax at a later date, the county must credit the city’s 0.1% back to the city.
This option originally required voter approval, but effective June 11, 2020, voter approval is optional, and this sales tax may now be approved by the legislative body with a simple majority vote.
At least 60% of the revenue must be used for constructing or acquiring affordable housing, constructing or acquiring behavioral health-related facilities, acquiring land for those purposes, or funding the operation and maintenance costs of new affordable housing units and facilities within which housing-related programs are provided. The housing and facilities may only be provided to the following population groups whose income is at or below 60% of the county median income:
- People with disabilities or behavioral health disabilities,
- Senior citizens,
- People who are homeless or at-risk of being homeless, including families with children,
- Unaccompanied homeless youth or young adult, or
- Domestic violence survivors.
The remaining funds must be used for the operation, delivery, or evaluation of behavioral health treatment programs and services or housing-related services. No more than 10% of the revenue may be used to supplant existing local funds.
A county that acquires an affordable housing or behavioral health facility under this statute must provide an opportunity for 15% of the units at that facility to be provided to individuals who are living in or near the city in which the facility is located or have ties to that community, unless the county is unable to identify sufficient individuals that meet these criteria. This prioritization must not jeopardize federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the Continuum of Care Program.
A county that imposes this tax must consult with any city before constructing or acquiring any of these facilities within the city limits.
Below are selected examples of resolutions and ordinances enacting a housing and related services sales tax or submitting the sales tax to voters for approval.
For a complete list of cities and counties that have enacted this sales tax to date, see the downloadable spreadsheet on our Tax and Population Data webpage, under the section Local Sales Tax Rates & Components. Using the column headers near the top of the spreadsheet, you can sort or filter to list all jurisdictions that have adopted this sales tax or any other local sales tax.
To see how these ballot measures have fared in elections, see our Local Ballot Measure Database. Select "Filter by Ballot Categories," then select "Housing & Related Services Sales Tax."
- Ellensburg Resolution No. 2017-23 (2017) — Submitting housing & related services sales tax to voters
- Issaquah Ordinance No. 2922 (2020) — Adopting councilmanic (non-voted) housing & related services sales tax; will be repealed if city signs MOU with the county to provide $2 million for transit-oriented development tenant improvements within city or if county does not enact countywide sales tax by end of year
- Jefferson County Ordinance No. 11-1221-20 (2020) — Adopting councilmanic (non-voted) sales tax; includes draft strategy for permanent affordable housing.
- Olympia Resolution No. M-1912 (2017) — Submitting housing & related services sales tax to voters; also see Ordinance No. 7127 implementing the sales tax and notifying the Department of Revenue following voter approval
- Port Angeles Resolution No. 14-19 (2019) — Submitting housing & related services sales tax to voters as a qualifying local tax under HB 1406 (see next section). Includes analysis of election timing and costs, concluding it is much less expensive to submit measure at November general election than at February or April special election.
- Spokane Ordinance No. C35982 (2021) — Adopting councilmanic (non-voted) housing & related services sales tax; sunsets after 20 years unless extended by ordinance. Directs city to form Housing Action Committee to provide recommendations on use of funds; provides detailed funding/application process and city priorities, including addressing the racial wealth gap.
- Wenatchee Ordinance No. 2021-13 (2021) — Adopting councilmanic (non-voted) housing & related services sales tax, contingent upon Chelan County, Douglas County, or East Wenatchee imposing the same sales tax. East Wenatchee approved a similar ordinance which is included in this document.
- Whatcom County Ordinance No. 2021-013 (2021) — Adopting councilmanic (non-voted) housing & related services sales tax and declaring intent to collaborate and coordinate with the cities within the county.
HB 1406 Affordable Housing Sales Tax Credit
From July 2019 to July 2020, cities and counties had the option to participate in the HB 1406 affordable housing sales tax revenue sharing program (RCW 82.14.540). Any jurisdiction that followed the required procedures before the July 2020 deadline will receive a share of the state’s portion of the sales tax for 20 years.
Participating counties will receive a “full share” credit of 0.0146% of taxable retail sales within the county, minus credits for those participating cities within the county.
Most participating cities will receive a “half share” of 0.0073% of taxable retail sales. However, any city that had a “qualifying local tax” in place by July 27, 2020 — defined as an affordable housing sales tax (RCW 82.14.530), an affordable housing levy (RCW 84.52.105), a levy lid lift that is restricted solely to affordable housing, or a mental health and chemical dependency sales tax (RCW 82.14.460) — will receive a “full share” credit of 0.0146%.
However, each participating jurisdiction has an annual maximum distribution cap for each state fiscal year (July 1-June 30) within the 20-year shared period that is calculated based upon the jurisdiction’s taxable retail sales during state fiscal year 2019. If the jurisdiction hits its maximum cap during any state fiscal year, the state will cease distributions to that jurisdiction until the beginning of the next state fiscal year (July 1 of each year).
The revenues may be used for:
- Acquiring, rehabilitating, or constructing affordable housing, which may include new units within an existing structure or facilities providing supportive housing services under RCW 71.24.385 (behavioral health organizations);
- Operations and maintenance costs of new units of affordable or supportive housing;
- Loans or grants to nonprofit organizations or public housing authorities;
- Repayment of bonds; and
- (Only for counties under 400,000 population and cities under 100,000 population) rental assistance to tenants who are at or below 60% of the jurisdiction's median income.
Administrative costs could be an allowed use of the funds, but costs would need to be specifically related to new units of affordable or supportive housing or the administration of a rental assistance program. A city or county would need to clearly show and document through their cost allocation plan that the administrative costs were specifically for affordable and supportive housing and not related to other unallowable purposes.
Affordable Housing Property Tax Levy
Counties and cities may impose additional regular property tax levies up to $0.50 per $1,000 assessed valuation (AV) each year for up to ten years to finance affordable housing for very low-income households (defined as 50% or less of the county's median income) when specifically authorized to do so by a majority of voters of the taxing district (RCW 84.52.105).
Revenues may also be used for affordable homeownership, owner-occupied home repair, and foreclosure prevention programs for “low-income households” (defined as 80% or less of the county's median income).
If both a city and the county it is located in impose a levy, the levy of the last jurisdiction to receive voter approval is reduced so that the combined rate does not exceed $0.50 per $1,000 AV in any taxing district. This tax may not be imposed until the legislative authority declares the existence of an emergency with respect to the availability of housing that is affordable to low-income or very low-income households, and the legislative authority adopts an affordable housing finance plan in conformity with state and federal laws regarding affordable housing.
- Bellingham Resolution No. 2018-09 (2018) — 10-year levy that combines a single-year levy lid lift with an affordable housing levy.
- Jefferson County Resolution No. 35-17 (2017) — 7-year levy, combining a single-year levy lid lift with an affordable housing levy to create an affordable housing trust fund. Note: The resolution title says RCW 84.55.105, but the correct citation should be RCW 84.52.105.
Real Estate Excise Taxes
Real estate excise taxes (REET) are mostly reserved for eligible capital projects. However, any jurisdiction that is fully planning under the Growth Management Act and imposing the second 0.25% “REET 2” tax under RCW 82.46.035 may use some of the revenues for affordable housing projects through January 1, 2026, subject to certain limitations.
In addition, San Juan County has imposed a 0.5% affordable housing REET under RCW 82.46.075. No other jurisdictions are currently eligible under this statute.
For more information on these REET options, see our Real Estate Excise Taxes page.
Fiscal Flexibility 2021-2023: Between May 13, 2021 and December 31, 2023, E2SHB 1069 temporarily allows any city or county to use a certain portion of its REET 1 revenues for operation, maintenance, and service support for existing capital projects, including the provision of services to residents of affordable housing or shelter units, as well as temporarily increasing the amount of REET 2 revenues that may be used for such purposes.
Multi-Family Tax Exemption
Any city with a population of 15,000 or more may establish a multi-family tax exemption (MFTE) program (chapter 84.14 RCW) to stimulate the construction of new, rehabilitated, or converted multifamily housing, including affordable housing, within designated areas. Some smaller cities may also be eligible under the definitions in RCW 84.14.010(3).
The provisions are very complicated, but a brief summary follows. To be eligible, a multifamily project must have at least four residential units. When a project is approved under the MFTE program, the value of the eligible housing improvements is exempted from property taxes, typically for 8 or 12 years. To receive a 12-year exemption, the property owner must commit to renting or selling at least 20% of the units to low- and moderate-income households. Land, existing improvements, and non-residential improvements are not exempt and are subject to normal property taxes.
Certain cities that have implemented mandatory inclusionary zoning requirements for affordable housing may also implement a 20-year exemption for qualifying properties located near high-capacity, high-frequency transit lines.
If the property use changes in a manner inconsistent with the program requirements before the exemption period ends, back taxes are recovered based on the difference between actual taxes paid and those that would have been paid without the exemption.
No new exemptions may be provided beginning on or after January 1, 2032, and no extensions may be granted on or after January 1, 2046.
- Bellingham Municipal Code Sec. 17.82.030 — Provides 12-year tax exemptions for targeted residential areas
- Issaquah Resolution No. 2017-15 (2017) — Notifying public of intent to designate a residential targeted area adjacent to the Issaquah Transit Center for the purpose of establishing a multifamily tax exemption program and facilitating the development of market-rate and affordable housing
- Kirkland Affordable Housing Master Leases and MFTE Amendments (2019) — Package of master lease agreements and MFTE ordinance amendments to promote availability of affordable housing, including reserving some units for city staff and other public sector employees. Includes staff report; city council approved the documents.
- Moses Lake Municipal Code Ch. 18.23 — Provides 8- and 12-year tax exemptions for targeted residential areas in the urban center
- Spokane Municipal Code Ch. 8.15 — Offers 8- and 12-year exemptions for 9 targeted areas.
- Tacoma Municipal Code Ch. 6A.110 — Offers 8- and 12-year exemptions for targeted residential areas
- Wenatchee Municipal Code Ch. 5.88 — Offers 12-year tax exemptions for residentially deficient urban centers
- Yakima Municipal Code Ch. 11.63 — Offers tax incentives for the downtown redevelopment zone
Lodging taxes, also known as hotel-motel taxes, are generally reserved for eligible tourism-related expenses. For a general overview, see our Lodging Tax (Hotel-Motel Tax) page.
However, cities and counties may also use lodging tax revenues to repay general obligation bonds (RCW 67.28.150) or revenue bonds (RCW 67.28.160) issued to finance loans or grants to nonprofit organizations or public housing authorities for affordable workforce housing within a half-mile of a transit station. (King County has separate requirements.)
While these two statutes do not specifically define “affordable workforce housing” or “transit station,” definitions are provided in RCW 67.28.180(3) discussing the requirements for King County. In that context, “affordable workforce housing” means housing for a single person, family, or unrelated persons living together and earning 80% or less of the county median income, while the definition of “transit station” references RCW 9.91.025, which is very broad and includes any bus stops or zones.
Washington State Housing Trust Fund
The state Department of Commerce administers a Housing Trust Fund to provide loans or grants to affordable housing projects through annual competitive application cycles. The program is funded primarily through the state’s capital budget, and local governments and local housing authorities are among the entities eligible to apply.
Eligible projects can serve people with incomes up to 80% of the area median income, but the majority of funded projects serve people with special needs or incomes below 30% of the area median income.
There is also a complementary HUD National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) program administered by Commerce through the state Housing Trust Fund application process. For more information, see the Commerce Housing Trust Fund resources and handbook.
Community Development Block Grants
The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program provides annual grants to local governments and states for a wide range of community needs, including ensuring decent housing, providing services to the most vulnerable community members, and creating jobs through the expansion and retention of local businesses.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides these grants directly to “entitlement” states, metropolitan cities, and urban counties on a formula basis. For more information, see the HUD Exchange Community Development Block Grant Programs resources.
Small rural cities and counties that are not entitled to receive CDBG funds directly from HUD can apply for state CDBG grants through the state Department of Commerce. Special purpose districts, public housing authorities, economic development councils, community action agencies, nonprofit organizations, and Indian tribes are not eligible to apply directly to the state CDBG program for funding, but they may partner with eligible city or town applicants as subrecipients.
In addition, specialty CDBG Housing Enhancement Grants are available to eligible rural cities and counties through the Housing Trust Fund application process. For more information, see the Commerce Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) resources.
Home Investment Partnerships Program
The Home Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) is a HUD block grant program similar to community development block grants, except that the funds are for the sole use of preserving and creating affordable housing. The funds can be used for a variety of activities related to affordable rental housing and affordable homeownership, and the income requirements vary depending on the nature of the funded activity. For more information, see the HUD HOME Investment Partnerships Program.
Some of the HOME programs in Washington State are administered by the state Department of Commerce, which maintains a HOME Program resource page.
Low-Income Housing Tax Credit
The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) is a federal tax credit program created in 1986 to provide private owners an incentive to construct and maintain affordable rental housing. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allocates program funds on a per capita basis to each state. The Washington State Housing Finance Commission (WSHFC) administers the tax credits, and investors in housing projects can apply for different tax credits depending on the project type.
For more information on LIHTC and other tax credit and financing options, see the WSHFC Multifamily Housing resources.
Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers
The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program provides a federal housing voucher for very low-income families and qualifying elderly residents or people with disabilities to afford housing in the private market. These vouchers are administered by local public housing authorities, which receive funds from HUD to administer the program.
Participants are free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and are not limited to units within subsidized housing projects. Usually, the public housing authority pays a subsidy directly to the landlord on behalf of the participating individual or family, and the individual/family pays the remainder of the rent. Under state law, landlords may not reject prospective renters based on their source of income, including Section 8 assistance (RCW 59.18.255).
Below are some additional resources related to affordable housing funding that may be helpful to local governments.
- Enterprise — National nonprofit addressing affordable housing through program development, nonpartisan advocacy, capital investments, and more; see their Resource Center for research reports, case studies, and other materials.
- Washington Housing Finance Commission: Publications — Includes the state Housing Finance Plan, a historical summary of significant housing legislation in Washington, and other resources
- Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance — Nonprofit organization that provides advocacy, education, and organizing related to safe, affordable housing in the state