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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A big impact on Spokane’s housing shortage could come in a tiny form

The unit lot subdivision ordinance allows developers like Guy Boudreaux to turn a typical single-family lot like this one at 524 S. Audubon St. into smaller lots with smaller homes.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A big impact on the housing shortage could come in a tiny way.

As housing prices have soared in recent years, some lower earners may think the dream of home ownership will remain out of reach.

But the city of Spokane is offering a new option – buyers will just have to think a little smaller.

“Now you could create a development where lot sizes are essentially as small as the house is,” city planning director Spencer Gardner said. “Within the development, you can have houses that are as close together as you want and sell them as their own lot.”

Signed into law at the beginning of this year, the unit lot subdivision ordinance allows a typical single-family residential property to be divided into as many lots as can fit with few limitations.

Small subdivisions are a different attack to the housing crisis than other city provisions.

Building Opportunity for Housing also became law earlier this year and allows developers to build rentals that have up to six units on a typical residential lot.

The provision was preceded by the pilot program, Building Opportunity and Choices for All, or “BOCA.”

“The part that we did not address through BOCA was this homeownership question,” Gardner said. “We don’t want to orient our market only toward rental properties. So our goal with unit lot subdivision is to increase the opportunity for people to start building equity and own their homes.”

Home ownership remains the best way to build generational wealth and has long been the cause of racial wealth gaps, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Spokane’s unit lot subdivision got its name from similar ordinances in other parts of the state like Seattle, which has one in place, Gardner said. But Spokane’s program is different.

“I don’t know that other cities’ unit lot subdivision codes are quite as flexible as ours,” he said.

The new code has been widely supported, according to Gardner.

“We have taken the housing shortage very seriously. We’ve really let our council and mayor lead the way on finding ways to provide housing to the people that need it,” he said, adding this includes the administrations of both Mayor Lisa Brown and the previous mayor, Nadine Woodward.

“The former mayor was definitely involved and supportive of the changes we were making,” he said. “And the current mayor has indicated support for what we’re doing as well.”

During the outreach period when the city heard from builders, Gardner and his team learned that builders wanted to have the freedom to build smaller houses on smaller lots to meet lower price points.

Matt Goodwin is one such developer.

The locally owned franchise, Anchored Tiny Homes, is owned by Goodwin, his wife, Natalie Wright, and a silent partner. Since May 7, the company has been marketing to customers to build them small residences.

“We had about 100 inquiries in our first week,” Goodwin said Monday. “We had six site visits last week, and we have, I think, 15 site visits this week – the calendar seems to be filling up.”

Gardner said the unit lot subdivision code does not discriminate on what kind of structures qualify. They can be “stick-built” homes, meaning they are constructed on-site like a typical home, or “manufactured homes,” which are prebuilt and placed on the property, like a trailer home.

Anchored Tiny Homes specializes in stick-built homes.

Customers can choose between 15 floor plans. The tiniest, a 384-square-foot studio, costs about $75,000. The largest, a roughly 1,200-square-foot home with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, costs about $180,000.

“And that’s the all-in cost. We do permitting, we do the surveying, we do the electrical, we do everything for you,” he said. “It’s a real house with upper to midlevel finishes and fixtures that are very attractive and look very nice.”

So far, Goodwin said customers consist of about 80% of people wishing to build an accessory dwelling unit on their property for a family member – usually an aging parent or a young adult.

The other 20% of customers consist of investors who want to rent out the home or developers wishing to build tiny home communities.

“People either can’t or don’t want to pay $400,000-$500,000 for a home. But a tiny home that’s around $100,000, comes with all the bells and whistles and the quality of a real home.”

This was the mindset of Chase Altig, a resident of Spokane who bought a tiny home for his family.

A company, Tiny Homes of Spokane, placed a 398 square-foot one-bed, one-bath manufactured home on  their small Loon Lake property about two weeks ago.

“It’s 390 square feet, one bed, one bath and a loft,” he said. “That should be totally adequate for my two daughters, my wife and myself.”

Everything included, the home cost the Altiges about $100,000. And spending about $40,000 on the small property, Chase Altig is pleased with his investment.

He learned of the Marysville company through his career as a residential lender. He said he knew of Carriage Houses Northwest and other companies because of the work they’ve done in cities like Seattle and even Spokane under old city codes.

The unit lot subdivision was based on previous codes that go back to 2014, Gardner said.

But the old rules forced developers to offer access to the street for each lot and mandated a minimum lot size – neither of which are applied under the unit lot subdivision ordinance.

Despite giving developers unprecedented flexibility for residential projects, the city has not seen many companies taking advantage of the new code.

“It’s a new ordinance. Nobody knows exactly how it’s going to play out or what the overall process is,” he said. “But somebody’s going to see it as an opportunity, then I’m sure people will follow on their coattails.”

Guy Boudreaux sees potential. He owns another Spokane tiny home company, Space Elevators.

Though he will also work with customers who want an extra dwelling unit on their land like Anchored Tiny Homes, Boudreaux has a different attack. He plans to take matters into his own hands by developing residential lots himself.

Last week his company submitted plans to the city to develop four residential properties in the Chief Garry Park neighborhood.

Boudreaux has submitted plans to the city as part of a planning meeting ahead of the official permit process.

If approved, he will divide a 0.16-acre property on East Boone Avenue into three lots. On East Cataldo Avenue, he plans to divide a 0.33-acre lot into nine lots. And at a third site on East Sharpe Avenue, he has plans for two adjacent lots. Both of those 0.16-acre lots would be split, one into five lots and the other into six.

“Our goal is to basically buy up as many lots as possible and be able to, you know, fly under the flag of that unit lot subdivision scenario,” he said. “I feel great about it.”

In 2024, the company’s goal is to erect 30 stick-built, tiny homes. But if the company doesn’t meet its goal, Boudreaux still would be confident in the growth of his company.

“It’s a perfect storm,” he said. “I think after COVID, people started thinking about where they wanted to put their priorities. They didn’t want to put it in a house they really couldn’t afford to keep up with the Joneses, but instead are buying these homes and doing more traveling, for instance.”

Boudreaux predicts a shift in the preferences for homebuyers.

“Ultimately, people want just enough, but they also want the feeling of living in a quality space. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon,” he said.

“I think the 5,000- and 7,500 -square-foot homes are a thing of the past for a large percentage of the populace.”