New In Brief: December 2023
- A recent USA Today ranking named Washington the worst state in the country for potholes. The ranking is based on analysis of Google searches for pothole-related terms from 2020 to 2023, used to find the states plagued by potholes (as pothole data from each state isn’t available). Colder, northern states topped the charts for pothole pitfalls. Washington, Minnesota and Michigan are the states with the worst pothole problems, according to the study, followed by Tennessee, Indiana, California, New York, Maryland, New Jersey and Georgia. The Evergreen State even boasts three cities on the ranking of the nation’s worst for these asphalt atrocities: Spokane, Yakima and Seattle. Seattle has a map online showing the potholes that have been reported and the ones that have been filled. Drivers can check the map to see if the city has received a repair request for a specific pothole. If you and your ride have been victim to a pothole, it can be downright brutal on your wallet. AAA reports the cost of most pothole-related repairs averages $406. Some drivers may be able to seek restitution from the jurisdiction that manages the offending road (in Seattle, you can file an online claim), but many are left to foot the bill on their own. Car insurance can sometimes help, if you have the right type of coverage.
- It will soon become nearly impossible to install fossil-fueled appliances to heat new homes and businesses in Washington, according to a report by the Seattle Times. Under new building code amendments adopted late November, builders would need to match the energy efficiency of heat pumps in order to install gas in new commercial and residential buildings. The new requirements could go into effect as soon as March 15, barring any additional legal challenges. Washington pressed pause on its original heat pump mandate earlier this year after a federal court overturned Berkeley, California’s ban on gas in new buildings and opponents filed similar challenges in Washington. This week the state Building Code Council approved a watered-down version of its original heat pump mandate. Rather than outright mandating electric heat pumps, it would make it more cumbersome and expensive for builders to meet energy efficiency targets without installing heat pumps. The codes will require new homes and buildings to meet the same total energy performance as those built with electric heat pumps while allowing builders flexibility to choose appliances. Basically, if builders choose gas appliances, they will need to make up the efficiency losses elsewhere in the construction. The Washington state Energy Strategy, published by the state Commerce Department, outlined that buildings, which account for 23% of the state’s emissions, ought to be transitioned from fossil fuels to electric appliances, with a focus on efficiency. State lawmakers adopted a target of slashing energy consumption in new construction by 70% by 2031. And by 2050, buildings should not be producing greenhouse gas emissions. While the council believes the new amendment meets the letter of the law, gas utilities that filed previous legal challenges, such as Cascade Natural Gas, Northwest Natural, Avista and trade associations, argue the new rule is impossible to comply with and violates federal preemption rules. Similarly, the Building Industry Association of Washington, which challenged the earlier version of the codes, says the latest may not comply with the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act. A federal judge in July denied a request from the gas industry to ditch the new state building code requirements that called for the installation of heat pumps in new construction. In a ruling from the bench, Chief Judge Stanley Bastian of the U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington said he did not want to delay an update to statewide building codes and cause a “chilling effect” on other agencies trying to address climate change. The state Building Code Council has 15 members appointed by the governor’s office. The council updates all building codes every three years.
- The state Department of Natural Resources will purchase about 9,000 acres of forestland in southwest Washington to generate revenue from logging, according to the Washington State Standard. It’s the largest state land purchase in more than a decade, according to the department. The State Board of Natural Resources on Tuesday approved the transaction, which involves land in Wahkiakum County and will cost the state $55 million. Money for the purchase will come from proceeds from previous land transactions and from revenue generated by the state’s new auctions of air-pollution allowances to businesses. The property is owned by a private landowner, which department officials said they cannot identify until after the sale is finalized. It’s expected to close in mid-December. Each of the four tracts that are part of the purchase are adjacent to lands already managed by the Department of Natural Resources. The department manages about 5.6 million acres of land overall. A primary part of its mission is to use those lands in ways that generate money for public schools. For forestland, that has traditionally meant timber harvests. Lately, the department has looked at new uses for some of the lands, including ways to get housing built on certain parcels. In recent months, the department has also sold property that isn’t well suited for logging to local governments to use for affordable housing and other development. Under the Wahkiakum County deal, the state will purchase 941 acres on the southern end of the Elochoman State Forest with more than $7 million in funding. Revenue from the land would benefit the Common School trust, which goes toward K-12 construction across the state. The rest of the land, located north and northwest of Cathlamet, will be purchased with $47.8 million of Climate Commitment Act funding allocated to the department over the next two years. The state’s new cap-and-trade program, created under the climate law, requires industrial polluters to purchase allowances from the state at auctions if they cannot meet emissions caps. The revenue from those purchases must be used for programs to fight climate change. The lands from this transaction will be set aside in the department’s land bank.
- If you’re looking for a place to hit the slopes, check out Crystal Mountain, the most popular ski resort in 2023 according to Hoidu, a British booking portal for holiday rentals. Featuring an abundance of terrain to explore with 11 lifts and over 50 runs, Crystal Mountain provides skiers and snowboarders a great amount of places to go and see views of the Cascade range. If you’re lucky, all five of Washington’s volcanoes can be spotted from the summit on a clear day. To determine which ski resort in the U.S. was the most popular, Holidu surveyed 100 ski resorts in the United States and extracted the average Global Search Volume for each resort per month in the past year. With all the data collected and analyzed, Crystal Mountain took the lead in the study with an overage of 111,400 searches per month in the last year. If you’re interested in shredding the bunny slopes or black diamonds at Crystal Mountain, take their website for a run here.
- The typical U.S. homebuyer earns more money and is more likely to pay cash this year, according to Bloomberg. And, increasingly, she is a single woman, according to the annual Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers report from the National Association of REALTORS®. Facing limited home inventory, rising prices and high mortgage rates, house hunters were forced to increase their down payment: For first-time buyers, it reached 8% of the total price, the highest rate since 1997, according to the report. In a sign of how tight the market has remained this year, recently sold homes were on the market for a median of just two weeks and typically went for 100% of the final listing price, matching the highest recorded since 2002. The average homebuyer’s income jumped to $107,000 in 2023 from $88,000 a year earlier. Buyers are getting older, at 35 for a first house compared with 29 in the early 1980s, the report found. The report doesn’t include regional details for Seattle or other metros. The share of recent buyers who were married couples dropped to 59%, the lowest since 2010, while unmarried couples’ share has remained little changed in recent years at 9%. Increasingly, buyers are single women. The portion of homes bought by single women and single men was roughly the same 40 years ago, but now the rate for women is almost double that of men. The typical single female buyer also tends to be a bit older: 38 for a first home, compared with 33 for single men. Although this year saw a slight increase in the number of minority buyers, the vast majority remains white households. Black buyers accounted for 7% of the total, even though they represent almost 14% of the U.S. population. Before the Great Recession of 2008-2009, people stayed in their home for an average of about six years. Today, sellers are sitting on higher home equity and have held on to their houses longer, for a median of about 10 years. With so many owners locked in at low mortgage rates, people are reluctant to move unless that have to. Among the primary reasons to sell a house were being closer to friends or family, finding a bigger place or after a life change such as a divorce or having a child, according to the report. About 1 in 10 moved out because the neighborhood or school became less desirable. As home values keep rising, people need to make more to afford one. About 20% of buyers paid cash in 2023, avoiding the punishing mortgage rates. That’s up from 13% in 2021, before interest rates started to rise. People aren’t moving as far from their previous home as they did in 2022, when remote work seemed like it might be a long-term possibility for many. Distance moved from the last home decreased from 50 miles to 20 miles, getting closer to the previous norm of 15 miles. The broker commission system at the heart of the U.S. residential housing market is opaque for many buyers who don’t realize the sales commission can be negotiated. The industry is facing unprecedented scrutiny about its commission-sharing system. Around 80% of owners contacted just one agent when selling their home.
- A Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled on November 17 that the law allows Washington state lawmakers to withhold records that are “privileged,” according to the Seattle Times. Although the scope of that privilege has yet to be precisely defined, transparency advocates were despondent after the ruling, worrying that it delivers a sharp blow to public access to legislative records. It’s now the second court ruling this fall to affirm such a privilege just a few years after the state Supreme Court decided lawmakers’ records were public. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed in April by the coalition and Jamie Nixon, an open government advocate who worked on the state’s 2021 redistricting commission, against the state of Washington. After hearing arguments from each side for about 30 minutes, Judge Anne Egeler issued an order saying lawmakers may withhold “records revealing internal legislative deliberations concerning bills contemplated or introduced in either house of the Legislature.” A lawyer for the Legislature, Jeffrey Even, had argued state statutes, including the Public Records Act, do not supersede the state constitution. He said Article II, Section 17 of the Washington Constitution, which protects members from civil or criminal liability for “words spoken in debate,” applies to legislative records. In court documents, Even and another lawyer, Jessica Goldman, also argued “respect for the rights and prerogatives of a coordinate branch of government lies at the heart of separation of powers and compels this Court to recognize legislative privilege.” Egeler said states with similar or identical constitutional provisions have held that the speech and debate clause creates a privilege shielding documents as well as oral testimony, and recognize that state constitutional provisions “share a common purpose” with the federal speech and debate clause, which federal courts have also said applies to documents. “State and federal courts recognize that this serves an important public interest by allowing legislators to engage in candid deliberations,” Egeler said during her ruling. “In addition, it has an important role in maintaining the constitutional separation of powers.” Lawmakers had maintained for years that their records were not public. In December 2019, after a lawsuit from multiple news organizations, including The Seattle Times, the Washington Supreme Court said that lawmakers were subject to the state’s Public Records Act. But just a few years later, in January, McClatchy reported that lawmakers were using a new justification for withholding records: “legislative privilege.” It is not yet clear how far-reaching legislative privilege may be going forward. The case has been split into two parts, and Egeler is expected to make another ruling. Egeler’s order says that “to the extent that it applies, legislative privilege is absolute.” Egeler also said during her ruling from the bench that as lawyers for the state conceded, the privilege “does not shield every legislative document” and does not extend to acts outside the legislative process. After the ruling, transparency advocates expressed worry that the ruling could have far-reaching implications and threaten the state’s public records law, passed by voters in the early 1970s and viewed as a national model for promoting public access to government information.
- Mortgage rates are falling after climbing to their highest point in 23 years in October, which means relief for homebuyers according to a report by KOMO News. A few weeks ago, the rates were above 8%. Now the rates are closer to 7.4%. What’s the difference? For a $300,000 mortgage, you’d pay about $2,214 a month at 8% interest. With the new rates, the monthly cost drops down to $2,077, a $167 saving. The average rate for a 30-year home loan has been dropping over the past month and may continue falling. But consumers still feel the strain from the combination of a high cost of living and household debt. According to Seattle-based Redfin, pending home sales are still down 8% from this point last year. Seattle is down 9.7% for new home listings which is the eighth highest drop for large cities in the US. Analysts predict we could see mortgage rates drop to 7% in a few months and maybe even 6% by the spring.
- A survey by MassMutual released mid-November found more U.S. households believe the American Dream is out of reach or disappearing. Over 40% of people said it is disappearing, a 9% increase from 2018 and a similar level to 2013 when the economy was still recovering from the financial crisis. What it means to achieve the American dream has also changed over the years. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said a family’s financial security is the defining factor, a change from a decade ago when owning a home and not living paycheck to paycheck topped the list. Owning a home has also exploded in price over the last two years as a hot post-pandemic housing market brought massive increases in prices in multiple parts of the country. The rate of price increases has slowed this year, but that has brought little relief to buyers as high interest rates ramp up the cost of a monthly mortgage payment. Other surveys of the American Dream have found changes over the years. An annual report from the Archbridge Institute has also observed a change in priorities about what defines the American Dream. The two most popular responses were “freedom of choice in how to live” and “a good family life.” The Archbridge Institute survey also noted its first increase in the amount of people who said they believe it is out of reach for the first time since starting it in 2020. Nearly a quarter of respondents said it was out of reach, but a majority of people said they already achieved it or are on their way. Other surveys of the American Dream have found changes over the years. An annual report from the Archbridge Institute has also observed a change in priorities about what defines the American Dream. The two most popular responses were “freedom of choice in how to live” and “a good family life.” The Archbridge Institute survey also noted its first increase in the amount of people who said they believe it is out of reach for the first time since starting it in 2020. Nearly a quarter of respondents said it was out of reach, but a majority of people said they already achieved it or are on their way.
- Washington is the state with the most adult children—ages 22 to 40—supported by their parents, according to a study from USA Today. With a total of 71% of parents financially supporting their adult kids, Washington ranks first for many factors. The study surveyed parents of Gen Z and Millennial adults in states with populations of 2 million or more to find out where adult children are receiving the most financial support from their parents. According to the study, parents in California, Washington, and Virginia average more than $800 per month in financial compensation for their children. Washington topped the charts with an average of $869.50 a month, while parents in Iowa contributed an average of $349. The study also factored in the total percentage of parents who were offering support and the variety of support offered, and Washington was in first place again. Washington parents are also the most likely to pay for family-wide entertainment subscriptions such as Netflix and Spotify. A category without Washington on top from the study was the states where parents were most likely to help pay off debt. Parents from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and California led the category. USA Today also asked parents what age they believe their child should be financially independent. The findings varied based on state as well. In states with higher costs of living—such as New York—the study showed parents don’t expect their children to be financially independent until they’re nearly 26, while the average age in New Mexico and Nevada was just under 23. Washington was sixth on this list, with an average age of 25 when parents think their children should be on their own financially. According to a report from Redfin, 18% of millennials and 12% of Gen Zers surveyed said they believe they will never own a home. Meanwhile, baby boomers are now the generation that buys and sells the most homes in the country.