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What Washington's housing legislation could look like in 2023

caption: New townhomes are shown on Martin Luther King Jr. Way S.,  on Tuesday, July 11, 2017, in Seattle.
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New townhomes are shown on Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., on Tuesday, July 11, 2017, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

How to build more housing, quickly, will be on the agenda when the Washington State Legislature begins its session in January 2023.

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Many lawmakers appear to agree on the need to make three big changes around the state, which will likely be discussed at the Capitol:

  • removing bans on denser forms of housing, such as townhomes;
  • eliminating “design review boards" statewide for residential projects; and
  • spending at least $1 billion more each year on affordable housing.

These changes are just what the more cautious stakeholders brought to the table.

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“It’s hard — you get focused on one shiny object, but one of the things we’re going to try to bring forward in this session is we need a package of things that collectively hang together and make sense, and move the needle," said Carl Schroeder with the Association of Washington Cities.

Disagreement between lawmakers centers around what the minimum allowable density should be (three units per lot or six?), and whether denser housing should be required on all residential land or only near parks and frequent transit.

Rep. Jessica Bateman (D-Olympia) favors a more aggressive approach.

“The cities have had the authority to zone as they wish for decades," Bateman said. "We’re in this situation because things have gotten progressively worse. We need to try something different.”

A less aggressive package could mean that Seattle and other cities that have already made modest reforms wouldn't need to add much density beyond what's currently allowed.

Seattle already allows diminutive backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments on every lot in addition to a main residence.

Either way, cities that have not reformed zoning laws at all will likely have to catch up to Seattle.

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