WA Lawmakers Look to Add Affordable Housing for ‘Missing Middle’

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Washingtonians are being squeezed out of the housing market, and some state lawmakers want to see significant changes to cities’ zoning laws to ensure more people with low and middle incomes can afford a place to live.

Alex Freeman-Smith, phlebotomist at the University of Washington Medical Center-Northwest, and union delegate for Service Employees International Union 1199 NW, said many people struggle to live in the community they serve, because the hospital is located in an area surrounded by single-family homes where prices have skyrocketed.

“Some of my coworkers even have to drive as far as from two hours away just to make it to work,” Freeman-Smith observed. “And of course, in the event of an emergency, having your emergency staff two hours away isn’t really effective for health care.”

A measure in the Washington Legislature would lift restrictions on building houses for more than one family, such as duplexes and triplexes. It has bipartisan sponsors. However, at a public hearing on the bill, a spokesman for the Association of Washington Cities expressed concerns infrastructure costs could be passed down to cities.

Anna Fahey, senior director of communications and campaigns at the Northwest-based think tank Sightline Institute, said zoning restrictions drive urban sprawl, which ultimately hurts the environment.

“Most of our cities are zoned, primarily or almost exclusively, for only one kind of housing,” Fahey stressed. “The biggest, most expensive kind. It’s the kind that fits a single, detached house that sits on a big lot.”

The bill proposes up to four homes on a single residential lot would be allowed in cities with populations of 6,000 or greater, or if they are located within the urban growth areas of major cities, like Seattle. It would also allow up to six homes on lots within a half-mile of frequent public transit stops.

Fahey argued it would be a major win, especially for workers.

“They’re modest in size and shape, and are going to be available for people near jobs and available at prices that are more affordable to more people,” Fahey explained.

The Senate version of the bill was scheduled for a public hearing last Wednesday.

Featured photo: A bill in the Washington Legislature would lift cities’ restrictions on multifamily housing like triplexes, seen above. (Imagenet/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

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