Jan 23, 2023 - Politics

Washington state might nix-single family zoning

Illustration of the facade of a triplex being held up by wooden beams.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Washington lawmakers want to see more housing built across the state — and that could mean getting rid of single-family zoning in cities such as Seattle.

What's happening: A bill at the state Capitol would require cities with at least 6,000 residents to allow quadplex housing on all residential blocks, as well as buildings with six units — also known as sixplexes — in areas close to major transit stops.

Why it matters: The state Department of Commerce estimates that the state needs to add about 1 million housing units by 2044 to keep up with population growth.

  • To reach that goal, many lawmakers — as well as Gov. Jay Inslee — say the state must dismantle local zoning rules that ban the construction of dense housing in many neighborhoods.

Zoom in: In Seattle, the majority of residential areas are not currently zoned to allow quadplexes and sixplexes.

  • Instead, they allow mainly single family homes, although backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments can be added in most cases.

What they're saying: "We have to make it easier to build housing," state Rep. Jessica Bateman (D-Olympia), the bill's prime sponsor, said during a committee hearing last week.

  • She said the lack of housing options that fall between apartments and single family homes, often called "missing middle" units, is one factor driving up prices and making homeownership unaffordable.

State of play: Cities aren't opposing this year's measure as strongly as a similar bill last year, which could boost the policy's chances of passing.

  • Carl Schroeder, a lobbyist for the Association of Washington Cities, told Axios the latest proposal does more to encourage the construction of affordable units, as opposed to only market rate housing.
  • Under the new measure, cities would need to allow sixplexes in any residential zone — not just near transit — if a developer commits to making two of the units affordable to low-income people.
  • Otherwise, the cities would only have to allow fourplexes in those areas.

Yes, but: The Association of Washington Cities still doesn't like the blanket requirements the bill would impose.

  • "It does seem inappropriate to us to have the same standards for Othello as we do for Seattle," Schroeder said.

Between the lines: It's unclear if this year's updates address concerns Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell raised last year about the bill potentially leading to gentrification and displacement.

  • Harrell didn't respond to requests for comment Friday.
  • Neither did Councilmember Dan Strauss, who chairs the city council's land use committee.

What we're watching: The bill is expected to pass out of committee — but it still must win approval from both chambers of the Legislature to become law.


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