State lawmakers considering legislation that would allow multifamily housing in single-family zones

Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace — along with dozens of other cities across Washington state — could be in for a significant zoning change if the Washington State Legislature passes legislation allowing multifamily housing in areas now designed for single-family homes. It is a big “if,” since this is the fourth time lawmakers have considered the legislation, but for the first time Gov. Jay Inslee has thrown his political weight behind the zoning changes.

Substitute Senate Bill 5670 and House Bill 1782 would allow duplexes and up to six-unit buildings to be constructed in some Edmonds neighborhoods. The issue is the political hot potato of the 2022 session.

But both bills face a Feb. 15 deadline — the last day to consider (pass) bills in the chamber (the House or Senate) in which they originated. Both passed out of their initial committees and are moving on; no floor votes are yet scheduled. In addition, lawmakers are wrestling with other critical legislation that includes rewriting police reform bills and addressing growth guidelines, transportation, firearms, the environment and elections.

The housing legislation is important because if it becomes law, it would upend local zoning codes. The two bills being considered allow for:

Creating additional middle housing near transit and in areas traditionally dedicated to single-family detached housing.”

— Language of SSB 5670 and HB 1782

If passed, the legislation would apply to any city in the state with a population of 20,000 or more. It calls for allowing multi-family replacement in any single-family neighborhood within a half-mile walk of “a major transit stop.” The bills also give these communities some “wiggle room” and allows them to create a housing formula “to determine the minimum number of units they need to take and then allowing them to put that density where they want so long as their plans don’t perpetuate housing segregation.”

The legislation would also require cities to allow duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes in neighborhoods that are more than a half mile from transit stops. It calls for cities to update their comprehensive plans two years after the legislation passes to permit these housing types.

21st District Sen. Marko Liias
32nd District Rep. Cindy Ryu

Two lawmakers representing portions of Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace — 21st District Sen. Marko Liias (D-Everett) and 32nd District Rep.Cindy Ryu (D-Shoreline) are among the bill’s sponsors.

The idea behind the measures is to cut the cost of new housing by allowing the smaller multiplexes in neighborhoods that currently allow only single-family units; those who move in split the high cost of the land. The legislation doesn’t guarantee a lower price on these housing types, but affordable housing advocates have argued that this denser housing would be cheaper.

The states of Oregon and California have already passed laws on these housing issues. If the state Legislature does pass similar legislation, all cities will face tough questions and even harder decisions. Gov. Inslee offered to take some of the heat off local politicians, telling reporters that the locals can blame him.

“Washingtonians really want a solution to this problem,” the governor said, “but we know the only way to do that is to increase density, and that is a little more controversial. So, I think the state needs to step up and take some leadership on this.”

We will know very soon if lawmakers in Olympia are willing to do just that.

— By Bob Throndsen




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