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The Impact – Upzoning Neighborhoods in Response to Housing Shortage

Mike McClanahan profile by Mike McClanahan

A  proposed law would override zoning restrictions in neighborhoods around the state. 

House Bill 1110 would authorize the construction of up to four units per lot in all residential areas in cities of 6000 or more residents or any city within the urban growth area of a city with 200,000 people. It’s meant to allow more density and potentially more affordable “middle” housing options for first-time home buyers and others who may be priced out of homeownership. The bill would also allow a developer to build up to six units per lot if two of the six units are reserved for affordable housing. Affordable housing is defined in the bill as not more than 30% of the household income of renters taking in 60% of median household income in the county or less, or homebuyers taking in 80% of the median income in the county or less.

The Senate version of the legislation is SB 5190.

From 2015 to 2021 the median price of a home in Washington nearly doubled from around $289,000 to more than $560,000, according to the Office Of Financial Management.

The Washington D.C. based nonprofit Up for Growth found that Washington state’s housing market was short by 140,000 homes as of 2019.  On top of that, the Washington State Department Of Commerce projects the Evergreen State will need one million additional homes by 2044 to meet the demand from population growth.

Single-family homes   are the dominant forms of residential development across the state. Efforts to change single-family zoning laws at the local level are known to inspire fierce opposition from existing homeowners and such proposals are frequently defeated. But new legislation under consideration in the state capitol would override local opposition and force cities and counties to accept other types of residential development in existing single-family zoning areas.

Supporters of the concept say allowing denser development with duplexes,triplexes, and fourplexes will begin to address the shortage of available homes in Washington and could bring down the price per unit.

During a public hearing in the House Housing Committee on January 17, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said, “Passing HB 1110 would allow us to increase residential density, equitably across the region and relieve displacement, pressure on high displacement risk neighborhoods,” said Opponents of the zoning override argue that it will change the character of neighborhoods, drive up the demand on local infrastructure and city or county services and result in overcrowded streets and classrooms.”  

Carl Schroeder with the Association of Washington Cities had a different take on the potential impact of the bill.

“Even Seattle, which has the best transit service in the state, only has nineteen percent of people that do not have a car. So saying that we should develop housing without an expectation of providing parking is really challenging for a number of our cities,” said Schroeder.

Similar bills have stalled in the legislature in recent years.  The 2023 upzoning bill is sponsored in the House by two Olympia based legislators, Democratic Representative Jessica Bateman and Republican Representative Andrew Barkis.  This week the bipartisan sponsors shared their perspective on the debate over single-family zoning  and the housing market as a whole.

“We know we have a housing shortage of 140,000 homes. We need to make it legal to build modest homes of all shapes and sizes- duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes and sixplexes,” said   Rep. Bateman.

“If we do not leave this session with comprehensive housing legislation that’s gonna move the ball, we’ve failed,” said Barkis.

The full interview is available here:

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