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Following new state law, Vancouver will create rules to allow duplexes, fourplexes in any neighborhood

State law aimed at adding more middle housing

By Sarah Wolf, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 21, 2024, 6:07am

The city of Vancouver is moving toward implementing state-required rules that would permit duplexes, fourplexes and even some sixplexes in any neighborhood, even those zoned for single-family residences.

House Bill 1110, which passed the state Legislature in 2023, aims to boost the state’s housing supply.

Bryan Snodgrass, Vancouver’s principal land use planner, said the new regulations for multiplexes and other so-called middle housing are the most significant change to the state’s Growth Management Act since it was enacted in the early 1990s.

“These real estate laws are very significant and will require we allow (middle housing) much more broadly than we ever have before,” Snodgrass said.

The law doesn’t ban the construction of new single-family homes but overrides zoning laws that have kept areas exclusively for single-family homes.

Cities with populations greater than 25,000 must allow duplexes in all residential neighborhoods and fourplexes near schools, parks or major transit stops.

Cities with 75,000 or more residents must allow both fourplexes and sixplexes near major transit stops, parks or schools.

The law also allows fourplexes anywhere in cities larger than 25,000 residents when at least one of the units is deemed affordable housing, while sixplexes with at least two affordable units are allowed anywhere in cities with populations greater than 75,000 people.

Over the past decade, more infill projects have made their way to the city of Vancouver’s planning department. Regulations have opened areas to cottage communities and accessory dwellings, such as homes placed in backyards. But the number of infill housing units hasn’t risen to the level expected by the new law.

Vancouver will soon begin working on standards for middle housing options. Even if cities don’t pass ordinances enabling these duplex, fourplex and sixplex developments, the overarching state law will permit them, Snodgrass said.

“We have a perfect storm for unaffordable housing,” said Bart Hansen, executive officer at the Building Industry Association of Clark County as well as a Vancouver city councilor.

Hansen pointed to the county being one of the fastest-growing in the state.

“With growth accelerating, availability of developable land declining, and the housing stock deficit increasing, we need to be pulling every lever to address affordability,” Hansen said. “The new middle housing codes are welcomed. However, they will not resolve the housing affordability crisis.”

Snodgrass envisions Vancouver limiting the size of fourplexes and sixplexes, but city officials have yet to tackle regulations under the new middle housing law. He said he expects those discussions to begin this summer.