May 21, 2024 11:19 pm

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Proposed legislation forcing cities to increase housing density in single-family neighborhoods introduced

OLYMPIA, Wash., January 21, 2022 – Proponents of HB 1782 say forcing higher housing density in Washington’s cities will help reduce housing costs, cut fuel emissions and put an end to exclusionary zoning. Critics of the idea, however, say it will require significant overhauls in city infrastructure and reduce local control of housing options.

Local Snohomish County legislators who currently support the bill are Cindy Ryu (D-Lynnwood), Emily Wicks (D-Everett), Lauren Davis (D-Lynnwood), Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds), and Shelly Kloba (D-Kirkland). The current House bill has a companion Senate Bill, SB 5670.

The House bill aims to address the “missing middle,” housing options that exist between single-family homes and apartment complexes, such as duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes. 

The bill requires cities to allow middle housing in every zone where single-family homes are allowed.  Supporters say it’s an efficient way to meet Washington’s housing demand. Single family homes will still be permitted, but they will no longer be surrounded by single-family homes alone.

Rep. Jessica Bateman

“This bill does not prohibit creating or building single-family homes. It just allows for the development of those other alternative types of homes,” said Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, the primary sponsor of this bill. 

This bill also requires cities to add “middle housing” within one-half-mile of major transit stops as a means of adding affordable housing and reducing vehicle trips that contribute to global warming. 

Inslee expressed deep interest in seeing this bill become law.

“House Bill 1782 will remove antiquated barriers to the creation of more housing in our cities,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. 

The bill will prohibit cities from discouraging the development of “missing middle” housing through purposeful delays, fees, or other requirements.

“We need statewide land use laws that meet the reality of our tremendous population and economic growth this century and we need to treat this like the intergenerational issue that it is,” he remarked. 

Testimony for this bill ranged from those in strong support to those disappointed in the legislation.

Nancy Backus 2019 headshot
Mayor Nancy Backus

Auburn City Mayor Nancy Backus said she was concerned with the bill’s requirements on the number of dwelling units per acre in a growing city like Auburn. 

“What would happen to us given the current language in the bill? Are we grandfathered to the 25 dwelling units per acre average? Or do we then need to overhaul once again our planning documents to change to the 30 dwelling units per acre?” Backus asked. 

She said it will be difficult for cities to overhaul all utility, transportation, housing and capital facility elements to accommodate more density.

Mayor Jim Ferrell

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell said he thinks the bill is too much of a one-size-fits-all approach to solving the “missing middle” problem. He said he believes the bill would undercut local control of Federal Way’s well planned, middle density development.  

“I think ultimately this comes down to local control,” Ferrell said, “We ask that you please stop this mandate that offers this limited solution but allows for more local control” and “maintains a city’s ability to determine the best way to address this critical issue.”

Bothell City Mayor Mason Thompson offered a view on local government control that he believes is overlooked.

Mason Thompson
Mayor Mason Thompson

“Local control does not mean that every city has done something slightly different because they are unique and special. What it has actually done is lead to a status quo where the zoning code for almost every city looks almost exactly the same,” Thompson said.

He said exclusionary zoning in neighborhoods initiated by Washington’s wealthiest people have the highest fossil fuel emissions per capita and are located and where a history of racial segregation was exacerbated by local government control.

“The negative effects on our communities have only increased from there. Neither the climate, nor people paying ever more for a basic need, have time to wait for all of the cities with part time policy makers to change the status quo on their own. That is fantasy,” Thomason added.

Dave Anderson, from Washington’s Growth Management Program, noted the analysis commissioned by this Legislature says the lowest cost option to construct more housing in our state is to construct “middle housing.”

Anderson said the infrastructure cost is small going from single-family homes to “middle housing”.

“So, the most cost effective, most fiscally responsible thing you can do is make the best use of the infrastructure you’ve already built,” said Anderson. 

Content Source:  Juan Morfin. Lynnwood Times in partnership with the Washington State Journal. The Washington State Journal is a non-profit news website operated by the WNPA Foundation. To learn more, go to

Edits: Original story with additions of bill sponsors and companion bill.

Keywords: Housing density, missing middle.

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