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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Missing middle housing bills back on Legislature’s table

Measures aim to increase housing options for Washington residents

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: January 31, 2023, 6:04am

Two bills aimed to close the housing gap known as the “missing middle” are up for legislative review this year.

House Bill 1110, filed by Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, aims to lift zoning laws prohibiting multiunit dwellings and, in effect, provide more middle housing options for Washington residents. Middle housing refers to units like duplexes, cottage clusters and townhomes intended to fill the gap between low-income and high-income housing options.

This isn’t the first time legislators have tried to pass a bill supporting middle housing. In 2022, House Bill 1782 would have reconstructed zoning rules and provided more middle housing options.

The bill didn’t garner traction due to lack of Republican support and other problems. But HB 1110 has a Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia.

At a Jan. 19 public hearing, Bateman spoke to the impact the bill could have on Washington’s housing crisis.

“Washington is experiencing a housing shortage, which is culminating in a housing crisis … This supply imbalance is creating increasingly expensive homes, and increasingly expensive rents. That’s impacting our constituents in every corner of the state,” she said.

HB 1110 would allow construction of duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes on residential lots in cities with more than 6,000 people. It would also provide a density bonus by permitting the construction of sixplexes if two units are deemed affordable and priced below market value — a new item not seen in HB 1782. Sixplexes also must be built within half a mile of public transportation.

The bill also aims to address discrimination against low income residents, renters of color and other marginalized groups. If passed, cities would have to apply an anti-displacement measure to their current housing comprehensive plans within nine months of the bill’s effective date. This measure would require cities to identify at-risk groups that may be displaced due to new development.

Lack of options

HB 1110 is accompanied by Senate Bill 5190, sponsored by Sen. Yasmin Trudeau, D-Tacoma. The Senate bill also aims to authorize cities to change zoning laws to allow for the construction of affordable middle houses in neighborhoods traditionally dedicated to single-family homes. The bill also addresses disproportionate displacement among low-income renters and renters of color.

At a public hearing Wednesday, Trudeau and citizens spoke about the proposals and the impact they could have on Washington housing.

“Home is a place where we rest, we refuel our bodies, where we hug and hold our loved ones and where we find safety and shelter, and it’s a basic need,” said Trudeau. “Yet, right now, we all agree that we are facing a crisis statewide … We’re just not building to the pace that is keeping up with the demand and is leaving people on the brink of being unhoused.”

Trudeau said opponents falsely claim her bill would construct high-rises in residential neighborhoods. She clarified that the proposed legislation will create “modest” single-family homes that blend in with communities.

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During public testimony, Brent Lindemann with the Building Industry Association of Washington said his organization supports SB 5190. Lindemann said the legislation would move the state in the right direction to address the current housing need.

“Our data shows that Washington is 268,000 homes short of what it needs to meet current market demand,” Lindemann said.

Trudeau said that if the state does not do something drastic, it will not meet the goal of building 1 million homes by 2040.

Katrina Knutson spoke on behalf of Gig Harbor, a city of about 12,000. She said the city appreciates the bill but has concerns about its one-size-fits-all approach. She also voiced concerns about “potential inconsistencies” with other regulations on cities like Gig Harbor.

She explained that Gig Harbor, which lies across the Tacoma Narrows from the metro area, did not receive certification by the Puget Sound Regional Council because it was “growing too quickly” and thus was ineligible for federal transportation funding. She fears the middle housing model could require Gig Harbor to add more middle housing, which would amp up its development and potentially impact future funding.

Bills follow residents’ needs

The bills follow on the heels of a Department of Commerce and Puget Sound Regional Council survey that underscored affordable housing and homelessness as chief concerns of Washington residents. Respondents in Clark County put more middle housing options on their wish list — especially homes in walkable and transit-friendly neighborhoods.

“While there is not a single solution (to solving Washington’s housing crisis), I do think that a key to this strategy is increasing the supply to housing and I think this bill achieves that goal,” Trudeau said.

The bill is still pending in front of the Senate Housing Committee.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.