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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bill to limit single-family housing in Washington picks up steam with House passage

A new duplex is shown under construction at 2908 N. Hogan St. in Spokane in February 2022. Buyers and lenders are finding creative ways to finance homes despite higher mortgage rates.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – A bill that would strip single-family zoning regulations from neighborhoods across the state to allow duplexes or fourplexes to be built passed the Washington state House of Representatives late Monday.

The measure, which passed 75-21 with bipartisan support, is aimed at alleviating the housing shortage by encouraging builders to put more people into existing city neighborhoods rather than encouraging urban sprawl.

The bill requires cities between 25,000 and 75,000 people to allow two units per lot anywhere and four units on lots within one half-mile of a bus stop.

Cities with more than 75,000 people or with a continuous urban area with more than 275,000 people – such as Spokane and Spokane Valley – would have to allow four units per lot anywhere and six units per lot within a quarter mile of a bus stop.

The bill was sponsored by Olympia Democrat Jessica Bateman, who said the housing shortage and soaring prices are pricing out young people.

“We may disagree on some of the policies that come before us on the chamber, but I believe that we can all agree that our common purpose here is to find effective solutions for our housing crisis,” Bateman said on the floor Monday.

The bill will affect fewer cities than Bateman’s original proposal, which would have required all cities of 6,000 or more to allow up to fourplexes on all residential lots.

Development and permitting reviews for these multi-unit homes such as duplexes and fourplexes cannot be more restrictive than for single-family homes, according to the bill. Some regulations, however, such as tree canopy and environmental reviews, would still be allowed.

The bill also eliminates parking requirements for developing middle housing on lots within a half-mile of a major transit stop. On lots smaller than 6,000 square feet, cities can’t require more than one off-street parking space per unit. On lots greater than 6,000 square feet, cities can’t require more than two off-street spaces.

Opponents of the bill included a number of cities, among them Spokane Valley. Those cities want zoning decisions left to local control rather than a state mandate.

A number of other cities, including Spokane, have already changed zoning laws to allow for more density in urban areas.

The Spokane City Council approved a temporary zoning ordinance to allow duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and townhomes on all residential zones citywide for a year.

The House bill still needs to pass the state Senate before becoming law.

The Legislature has made addressing the state’s housing crisis a priority this year, with a number of bills to build more affordable houses, allow for more in-law and cottage units, and a proposal from Gov. Jay Inslee to borrow $4 billion to build more housing.

A recent report from the Washington state Department of Commerce found Washington will need to add 1.1 million homes over the next 20 years. More than half of them will need to be affordable for residents in the lowest income levels.

The state will need to build more than 50,000 new units annually to keep pace with population growth, according to the department.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.