(The Center Square) – Bipartisan legislation that would legalize “middle housing” in cities throughout Washington state drew passionate responses from both supporters and opponents at Friday’s hybrid in-person/remote public hearing before the Senate Housing Committee.
Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1110 would allow cities to change zoning laws to allow for the construction of a variety of different types of residences – that is, the housing options that exist between detached, stand-alone houses and large apartment complexes. Those options include accessory dwelling units or ADUs, duplexes, fourplexes, and multi-family residences.
Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, the bill’s prime sponsor, outlined the scope of the housing challenge in the Evergreen State.
“Unfortunately, because the majority of cities have made it illegal to build these modest home choices, we only see of the 44,000 permits that are created every year for housing, only 5% are actually for middle housing,” she told the committee. “These home types are inherently more affordable for first-time home owners and they’re also better for the environment.”
The Department of Commerce says the state needs to construct more than one million new homes by 2044 to meet demand, with half of that subsidized housing that is affordable to low-income residents.
In December, Gov. Jay Inslee proposed a $70.4 billion 2023-25 operating budget with a major focus on housing and homelessness.
Bill co-sponsor Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, said lawmakers have worked with stakeholders in an effort to produce a bill making housing less expensive.
“If we can see this go into place, along with other pieces, and push it, then we will see housing being developed, and ultimately we’ll start to lower the cost, both in price of homes to buy and the rents,” he said.
Supporters touted the legislation as a way to build more housing that will result in lower costs and benefit everyone.
“HB 1110 will help us build a world where everyone [has] a safe, decent, affordable place to call home because it allows us to build more home owners as well as more homes,” said Ryan Donohue, chief advocacy officer at Habitat for Humanity in Seattle-King and Kittitas counties.
Joe Tovar, policy analyst with the Department of Commerce, expressed similar sentiments.
“This bill would give tens of thousands of households the opportunity to live in new middle housing in the walkable, amenity-rich neighborhoods that are now accessible only to those who can afford the most expensive form of housing: detached, single-family homes,” he said.
Tovar went on to say the Department of Commerce has determined the bill would allow “middle housing that is in scale and height-compatible with single-family houses. The bill would also require enforcement of the same environmental protections that apply to development of single-family houses.”
Bryce Yadon, a lobbyist working on behalf of the livable communities organization Futurewise, summed up what he thought the bill would do.
“Again, the goal of this bill is to provide housing opportunities in all neighborhoods across Washington by creating that floor and making sure that every jurisdiction is taking their required housing allocation and not relying on their neighbors to do it,” he said.
Not everyone was in agreement, with some citing concerns about a loss of local control.
“However, we believe House Bill 1110 as currently proposed is deeply flawed and housing needs should be regulated by local jurisdictions that better understand local needs,” explained Maple Valley Councilmember Syd Dawson. “The city of Maple Valley is opposed to House Bill 1110 because planning at the local level is critical, and House Bill 1110 erodes local control and is not flexible to allow local knowledge and take into account what cites have already done to accommodate growth and affordable housing.”
The city is already updating its comprehensive plan now to meet state housing requirements per the state Growth Management Act, he pointed out.
Mercer Island Mayor Salim Nice agreed.
“HB 1110 fails to provide the resources and tools necessary to plan for and address critical infrastructure needs,” he said, noting the bill “would result in innumerable demands on the city’s water, sewer and stormwater system due to its unplanned growth.”
Nice concluded, “Please consider this bill’s numerous misgivings and oppose it absent significant improvements, particularly those needed to meet the state’s affordable housing projections.”
The bill is scheduled for executive session before the Senate Housing Committee at 1:30 p.m. on March 22.