Sponsors of Pro-Housing Bills in Olympia Emphasize Statewide Affordability Crisis

Image of a four-unit apartment building
One Salient Oversight at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

By Ryan Packer

In response to rising housing costs and increased homelessness statewide, the state legislature is considering an unprecedented number of bills that would influence the ability of cities across the state to set local policy around housing, density, and land use. 

Among the proposals introduced so far: A bill that would eliminate most minimum parking requirements near transit stations; one cutting local design review boards out of the approval process for residential construction; one streamlining permitting; one allowing residential lots to be split into multiple lots so additional units can be built on those lots; and one reforming condominium laws. Many of these bills have already had a public hearing and are headed toward committee votes—extremely fast work compared to past years.

House Bill 1110, introduced by Rep. Jessica Bateman (D-22, Olympia) and Rep. Andy Barkis (R-2, Olympia), is taking center stage as a retooled version of similar legislation, HB 1782, that never made it to the House floor last year. This year’s bill would require cities to legalize sixplexes within one-half mile of frequent transit. It would also allow fourplexes as a base level of density in areas in and around Seattle and Spokane, and in towns and cities with more than 6,000 residents elsewhere in the state.

This so-called “missing middle” bill would attempt to add a level of density between single family homes and large apartment buildings currently absent from many Washington cities.

Last year, opposition from the Association of Washington Cities (AWC), a lobbying group for cities, helped prevent HB 1782 and other housing bills from advancing; the group argued that zoning changes that preempted city rules would take away local control and impose “one-size-fits-all” regulations on cities across the state. In 2023, legislators hope to bypass that criticism by focusing on the impacts of high housing costs.

“I feel more confident this year because we’ve been doing a lot of coalition building and a lot of work to talk about the real causes of our housing shortage and crisis,” Bateman said. During its first hearing last week, elected officials from Olympia, Bothell, Everett, and Burien turned out to support the bill, with much less direct opposition than last year.

Supporters also say they’ve done work to broaden the coalition that supports the bill. The AWC, unlike last year, is not currently opposing HB 1110, but is pushing to water down changes to single-family zones to only include triplexes, and to not impact every lot within a city.

Another bill, introduced by Senator Marko Liias (D-21, Edmonds), focuses on loosening restrictions on density directly around transit stations, preserving traditional single-family zoning in wide swaths of cities across the state. That bill may prove an easier political sell compared to opening up single-family areas to increased density, particularly in the state senate, where there are fewer Republicans ready to partner on housing bills.

“As I talk to my constituents, I’ve got folks in Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mukilteo, that are really wary about missing middle [housing]” housing, Liias said, referring to moderately dense housing that’s affordable to middle-income earners. In contrast, Liias said, “when I talked about transit-oriented development, virtually everybody’s in agreement that we should be siting more housing next to transit. That’s a much more consensus perspective.”

The local control issue may still be a hurdle, though. Rep. Spencer Hutchins (R-26, Gig Harbor), who sits on the housing committee, suggested during a meeting with the Gig Harbor city council earlier this month that even if he agrees with a policy change on housing, he might still oppose it on principle. “I will be looking at things through the lens of, making sure that we are protecting the ability of our local governments to represent their local citizens well, and not have Olympia run roughshod over cities and counties,” Hutchins said.

Rep. Bateman doesn’t give a lot of credence to the local control argument. “Currently what cities are doing is, they’re limiting what private property owners can do with their property,” she said. “You don’t have the freedom to make your own decision about adapting to the market, responding to what the market need is. People want more diverse housing options.” 

This year, Democrats are trying to zoom out on the issue of housing and focusing on multiple aspects of the state’s housing crisis. The Democratic caucuses in both chambers have begun referring to three “pillars” that lawmakers will attempt to tackle around housing this session: Increasing public subsidies for affordable housing, passing tenant protections for renters, and loosening restrictions on housing supply that are limiting growth. 

The first housing “pillar” is clearly a priority for Governor Jay Inslee, who is pushing to raise the state’s debt limit to fund $4 billion in investments in housing over the next six years. That proposal, even if lawmakers approve it, would need to go to voters statewide in November, adding an extra level of uncertainty. 

The sheer number of housing bills this session  is itself a strategy to avoid a repeat of last year, when almost no housing bills made it past legislative deadlines. “It’s one thing to say that one bill can’t solve all the problems, but it’s another thing to actually have a whole bunch of other bills that are working to solve these challenging areas that make it more difficult to build housing,” Rep. Bateman said. 


18 thoughts on “Sponsors of Pro-Housing Bills in Olympia Emphasize Statewide Affordability Crisis”

  1. A planned community for the rich: the beauty of the free market.
    A planned community for everyone else: goddam socialistic radical liberalism!

    1. Ah, I don’t think this rezoning plan really serves anybody who isn’t already rich. Buying and tearing down a single house costs over a million dollars in Seattle. Add permitting and construction for 4 units on the lot and price per unit is over $500k per unit. Building 6 units might drop the price to the mid $400k level….maybe, but you add decks and 14 ft ceiling and sell them for well over $600k. How many local people who are struggling to find stable housing could afford this? How many rich out-of-State folks moving to Seattle have 500k or more in cash? Money talks, bullshit walks. This “missing middle” zoning plan is path towards pimped out $700k +++ condos, nothing more.

      So what this zoning change for Western Washington means is high end housing for out-of-State folks keeps getting built and “the money” keeps moving in. Seattle’s problems are, and have been for last 30 years, caused by “the money moving in”. It’s a free Country. You can’t change that.

      1. That’s right. And furthermore, a lot of what’s being built is those stacked 3 tiny floors. What parent is going to want to slog up and down those stairs how many times a day, not to mention the kids running off their energy going up & down. Or, if no kids, what person who wants a drink of water during the night will want to hike down and back up 2 or 3 floors? Some young ones, perhaps, but where are the people displaced so we can house them going to live? High end housing for out of state folks is exactly what we’re getting, at the expense of displacing long time residents and those we depend on for essential services.

      2. Two Seattle Public School teachers with typical quals and 4-6 years on the job have the income to qualify for a $600k – $700k mortgage (2 x ~$80k each).

        More homes that middle class folks with solid middle class jobs like teachers can buy would be a huge win.

      3. Bryan Kirschner…. Housing for families over 150k isn’t the “missing middle” I think so many young Lefty Seattleites are hoping for. That Wallingford duplex renting for $1200 a month is long, long gone.

        The construction industry can only build so many units and most years the out-of-state inflow in bigger than the # of total units built. I’d guess the total number of homes torn down to build multi-unit housing in Seattle wouldn’t be a thousand in a year… likely way less. So we’re talking a couple of thousand units at the most, and they would be the most desirable units on the market. Retired folks from California could “downsize” their Orange County house and buy all these units for cash (with a lot left over). Seattle, or even Washington State can’t solve the US housing problem…. or the global warming and social instability that’s pushing people to move.

  2. I’m wondering whether there’s a risk that, in smaller transit districts like Kitsap, Skagit, or even Snohomish County, House Bill 1110 might inadvertently cause pressure to be put on transit agencies to reduce service to certain neighborhoods, or prompt efforts to reduce transit agencies’ budgets and thereby necessitate service cuts. Does anyone want to prognosticate on that?

  3. So what’s the plan to address displacement when tax assessments reflect the new “highest and best use” value under a multiplex mandate and poorer homeowners can’t pay? Or displacement when there’s a free for all on building multiplexes where land is cheapest – Seattles south end – while Laurelhurst and Magnolia carry on unchanged as usual? Free markets are always rigged to serve the rich, whether it’s they who profit off new regulations or who aren’t subject to the same outcomes as everyone else.

  4. All apartment buildings and condominiums should be required to provide parking with electric vehicle charging stations. Data shows that people move here and bring their cars. The number of cars has increased. If no parking garages are required for the huge buildings being proposed near transit stations the buildings will have a harder time filling with tenants. Transit stations are situated in places where there’s not always a lot of street parking. Look at Northgate. A big apartment proposed there with retail in bottom. Will tenants be allowed to use all parking in the lot reserved for shoppers and I’ve rink? If not they cannot park on any street surrounding Northgate. This means all parking on surrounding streets will fill up. The same goes for large apartments propooon mercer street where there is zero street parking. Let cities decide their own parking needs.

      1. The people who want to live in the apartments care, as do the homeowners who live half a mile away yet won’t be able to park near their home anymore. Also the environment cares as the renters will opt for gas vehicles instead of electric because of lack of vehicle charging.

      2. “The people who want to live in the apartments care…”

        Sure. If they own a car they won’t pick an apartment without a garage (and therefore won’t add their car to the streets) if they don’t see a convenient option for parking nearby.

        “…as do the homeowners who live half a mile away yet won’t be able to park near their home anymore.”

        They should have thought about that before they bought a house without a garage/driveway big enough for their car(s). The city has never guaranteed a certain number of street parking spots to homeowners. It has always been on a space-available basis.

        On the bright side, many homeowners already have garages and driveways that are not regularly used for car storage; surely some homeowners who didn’t buy enough parking for themselves can find a spot to rent from a nearby neighbor if the public parking fills up.

        “Also the environment cares as the renters will opt for gas vehicles instead of electric because of lack of vehicle charging.”

        This is a temporary problem that will be solved during the first small fraction of the useful life of these apartment buildings. It should not be used as an excuse to mandate unnecessary parking.

  5. One thing I notice about these proposals is that hidden behind the “missing middle” trope is the fact that what proponents are advocating will leave wealthy neighborhoods mostly alone, allowing them to retain their single family character, while burdening almost everyone else with the crowded garbage that’s now replacing decent SF homes, because after years of transit mania, only the wealthy neighborhoods lack sufficient proximity to transit to escape the hell advocates want to foist onto the rest of us. No thanks.

    1. Yeah, all of the “density” talk in Washington State ignores the real problem. Washington, along with the rest of the nation, was built on God, Country and the 30 home mortgage. Buying out single family homeowners (for a million plus in Seattle) and letting a corporation build 4 to 6 units that are for sale at say, $750K plus, or worst, rented for something like $4000 plus a month (with the endless rent increases)…. doesn’t fix anything. Adding 10,000 units of overpriced housing in Seattle does nothing for affordability… it’s just a gateway for 10,000 rich out-of-state folks to move to the Emerald City. The number of tents around town just keeps going up.

      I do think change is going to happen in the next decade…. work for home jobs are really the next wave for America. Seattle is filled with really bright, often college educated, younger folks who flat out can’t afford to live in overpriced Cities. The only solution that works is for them to move somewhere else they can actually afford. Apartment living has always been for the young, the down-and-out, the immigrant, the lower classes who can’t afford the American Dream (home ownership). If you don’t have own your home in Seattle, or at least have a mortgage…. you’re not really a full resident of Seattle, are you?. Who thinks paying rent for 65 years is really going to work out?

      Honesty, Ryan Packer, if you’re not a current Seattle homeowner, there’s no shame to admitting Seattle is too rich for you and cutting your losses. Try Iowa, the Midwest is more affordable. How about this? Just who a “Seattleite”? A home owner? A renter? Someone born in Gig Harbor? Someone who just stepped off a Greyhound bus for Alabama… or Mexico?

      1. Ah yes a vision of Seattle’s future in which all those who can afford to live here have to go to Iowa to get a massage or a haircut, but might not be able to find the time because they are busy changing their own oil and cleaning their own gutters…

    2. The Missing Middle is simply supply side deregulation that has been pushed by the American Enterprise Institute and other similar think tanks for decades. With this bill the deregulation is disguised as social justice, equity and affordable housing. It is none of those. It will provide no affordable housing and the proliferation of new 4-6 plexes (the most profitable for the developers to build) will permanently erode the livability and green space of Seattle neighborhoods.

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