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Bill would effectively ban single-family zoning in Washington state

A row of houses in Seattle.(Kaizer Rangwala, Flickr Creative Commons)

A bill moving through Olympia looks to restrict single-family zoning across Washington state’s large cities.

Did Seattle’s upzoning measure not go far enough?

The measure — sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Mona Das — would enact a statewide ban on any zoning that restricts construction of multi-family housing. It would be limited to cities with populations over 15,000.

The bill would represent tectonic changes for many of the state’s largest cities, including Seattle, which is roughly 70 percent single-family zoned. That number was addressed slightly by 2019’s Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation, but Das’s bill would represent a far more sweeping shift.

The measure wouldn’t require cities to build multi-family housing. Rather, it would simply allow duplexes, triplexes, apartment buildings, and more in neighborhoods previously limited to single-family homes.

“The time to act is now to create more housing options in traditionally single-family zones,” the legislation reads. “The exclusion of missing middle housing is rooted in inequity as a way to keep some families out of certain neighborhoods.”

Between 80 to 90 cities in Washington state would have their zoning laws change under Das’s proposal. It would take effect on July 1, 2020, and would “supercede, preempt, and invalidate” any existing zoning restrictions in qualifying cities.

Using other cities’ solutions won’t fix Seattle’s housing problems

Opponents to the bill have voiced displeasure that it doesn’t weigh feedback from cities that would be affected most.

“State mandates are strongly opposed since it cuts out the feedback and input from the local community,” stated a coalition of Washington cities and local leaders, including Renton, Lake Stevens, Fife, and more.

In order to get passed out of the state Senate, the bill has until the end of the early-2020 legislative session Wednesday evening.

Oregon became the first state to fully ban single-family zoning in 2019, limited to cities with over 10,000 people. Minneapolis enacted its own ban in late 2018.

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