Crushing suburbia? Washington state could end single-family zoning

Gov. Jay Inslee says housing supply has failed to keep pace with population growth because many municipalities only allow single-family houses.

Updated: December 23, 2021 - 12:02am

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Washington could join fellow West Coast states Oregon and California in legalizing zoning for multifamily dwellings statewide as part of a legislative agenda on housing policies recently announced by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The governor's policy brief says that the housing supply has failed to keep pace with the population growth over the last two decades because many municipalities only allow single-family houses to be built.

"Despite the dire need for additional housing stock and a greater variety of housing types, we continued to build low-density, detached residential homes and units at about double the rate of other high-density housing types," according to the plan's outline.

Inslee believes that nixing ordinances limiting where duplexes, triplexes and other types of what are called "middle housing" can be built will increase the supply of affordable housing. Proponents also say that banning single-family zoning will limit urban sprawl.

Part of Inslee's plan was put in place when he signed House Bill 1923 into law in April of 2019. It requires cities of more than 10,000 people to choose among several options aimed at increasing multifamily housing.

The options include:

  • development of at least 50 residential units per acre if located within a half mile of a fixed transit station;
  • at least one duplex, triplex or courtyard apartment on each parcel in one or more areas zoned for single-family housing;
  • accessory dwelling units on all parcels in areas zoned for single-family housing.

Those cities by the end of 2022 must also adopt new zoning guidelines that call for at least 25% of all new residential construction to meet the state's affordable housing criteria.

"Our housing supply is simply not keeping pace with the population of the state of Washington," Inslee said last week at a Habitat for Humanity event in Seattle, according to The Olympian. "If we don't address this fundamental problem, we're not going to be able to help people stay out of homelessness, because rents will continue to skyrocket."

Another point of Inslee's plan incorporates grant money that has been allocated by the state Department of Commerce to fight homelessness. Most of that money will be used to purchase and convert apartment complexes in King County into 161 permanent housing units and also provide 84 shelter units at a former hotel.

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