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WA Senate passes bill to lift ‘middle housing’ zoning restrictions

A prior version of the bill would have banned single-family zoning in the state

Senate lawmakers in Washington passed a bill on Tuesday that would lift the restrictions on certain types of multifamily properties, called “middle housing,” in areas zoned for single-family housing in the midst of a statewide housing supply shortage. The term “middle housing” refers to duplexes, fourplexes and accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which have gained popularity in recent years.

The bill is part of a larger push to diversify the types of housing that can be constructed in Washington neighborhoods.

The Senate passed House Bill 1110 with a bipartisan vote of 35-14. The goal of the bill is to “increase middle housing in areas traditionally dedicated to single-family detached housing,” according to the bill’s description on the Washington State Legislature website.

“The legislature finds that Washington is facing an unprecedented housing shortage for its current population and without significant action will not meet its goal of creating 1,000,000 homes by 2044,” the bill states. “Increasing housing options that are more affordable to various income levels is critical to achieving the state’s housing goals, including those codified by the legislature […].”

Supporters describe the measure as necessary in order to combat the high housing costs in the Pacific Northwest, which has also led to an increase in homelessness.

“We simply don’t have enough housing in this state,” said Sen. Yasmin Trudeau, D-Tacoma. “This problem affects every city in every county across the state and it’s a bigger problem than any city or county has been able to tackle so far.”

The bill’s opponents, on the other hand, argue that too much power has already been removed from zoning authorities at the local level.

“I support the local communities being able to determine what their community looks like without the state of Washington coming down with a hammer telling them they must do this,” said Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn.

A prior version of the measure that would have banned single-family zoning within the state was passed by Washington’s House of Representatives in March. The current version passed by the Senate will now return to the lower body to enter the reconciliation process.

If that process is completed, the bill will proceed to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D) to be codified into law.

“Among other changes, the Senate version is more lenient in the requirements it places on small cities in Seattle’s suburbs,” the Seattle Times reported. “The House could either approve changes made by the Senate or the two bodies could attempt to work out their differences.”

Sen. John Braun, who resides in the city of Centralia and leads the Republican minority in the state Senate, described the bill as a way to further protect business interests and property rights.

“When the cities say you can only build one house on your half-acre lot, that restricts your right to use your property as you would like,” Braun said.

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