Washington State Housing Bill Approved By Senate

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A key housing bill that would legalize duplexes and fourplexes in most neighborhoods in nearly every Washington city has been approved by the state Senate.

House Bill 1110 passed on a 35-14 vote on Tuesday with about a half-dozen Republicans joining Democrats to pass it, The Seattle Times reported. The bill would override local zoning rules that have long kept large areas in cities for only single-family homes.

Gov. Jay Inslee and other supporters say increasing housing supply is critical to ease a statewide housing crisis that’s seen home prices soar and the rise of 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.”

Opponents argue that planning and land use decisions should be handled locally and that the bill would be a gift to developers without doing enough to increase affordable housing.

“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,” Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, said.

The bill will return to the House for a vote on the Senate’s version, which among other changes, is more lenient in the requirements it places on smaller cities in Seattle’s suburbs.

“Hard to overstate what a sea change this is for the state of Washington taking proactive action on zoning reform to create more housing choices,” wrote Dan Bertolet, director of housing and urbanism for the Sightline Institute.

It would not ban the construction of single family homes, but it would stop cities from requiring neighborhoods to have only single-family homes.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, touted the bill as protecting private property rights.

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

The state Department of Commerce estimates Washington needs to build an additional 1 million homes over the next two-plus decades to keep pace with population growth.

The requirements would not apply to environmentally critical areas or threatened watersheds around drinking water reservoirs.

Similar legislation has failed in recent years, as cities have lobbied to maintain their grip on zoning regulations. But supporters this year worked extensively with the Association of Washington Cities, which gave muted support last week.

States have increasingly stepped in as populations grow and housing stocks fail to keep pace. Oregon eliminated single-family zoning in 2019 and California largely did the same in 2021.

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