How single-family zoning and regulatory fees lead to high housing costs in Seattle

Apr 15, 2021, 6:47 AM
Seattle housing prices, inventory, relief...
A Redfin real estate yard sign is pictured in front of a house for sale in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images for Redfin)
(Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images for Redfin)

The chief economist for Windermere, Matthew Gardner, says Seattle has to get past the single-family zoning mindset that it has had really for most of its existence as a city. It’s something Dori Monson completely disagrees with, so Gardner joined the show to discuss.

Dori noted that when he was a kid, he grew up in a distinctly single-family zoned neighborhood, and that even though it wasn’t the greatest house, he and his friends benefitted from being able to play in backyards.

“So why in the world is there this desire to upzone so much of Seattle and get duplexes, and fourplexes, and more apartments?” he asked.

“Well, I think that it’s great to know that, as a youngster, you have plenty of space around. The trouble is we continue to have more people moving here than moving away,” Gardner responded. “In fact, the last time we actually lost population, I believe was after the Boeing bust of 1972. We have a lot more people here and, naturally, we’ve got a lot of mountains, a lot of water, and not a whole amount of land because of that.”

Gardner says single-family zoning may have worked for a time in Seattle, but we’ve got to move beyond it.

“I think zoning was created here back in the late 1930s, I believe, and it probably made sense then, as it did through the 70s,” he said.

Mercer Island gym owner unable to pay rent due to COVID, being sued for $350,000

“But as we continue to see more and more people moving here, as we continue to have a mass transit infrastructure, which is stretched beyond belief, then what that does is that home prices or even rents closer to the job centers get higher. They do that because there’s a value to our time,” he said.

Dori suggested that single-family zoning isn’t the only reason why Seattle has some of the highest housing prices in the country. Government plays a role, too.

“A Syracuse University study says Seattle city government adds more to the cost of housing than any city in the country. … Why don’t we address that before we start chipping away at the character of the city?” he asked.

“Well, I mean, you’re absolutely right. As much as I say that we need to get greater density, it’s not going to happen overnight,” Gardner responded. “Part of the reason — and you are quite correct in that making the statement you just did — is our regulatory fees and costs, on average, in America is about 25 cents of every dollar spent to build a home, of fees.”

Washington Rep: Capital gains tax is just ‘parity in the tax code’

“And, actually, multi-family — either condominiums or apartments — it’s above 30 cents,” Gardner said. “So when you combine those regulatory fees with the land costs, which are extraordinary, again, because we have a finite supply of it. Then we look at labor costs. No one’s going to vocational school. Then we look at material prices — lumber’s gone parabolic, over the course of the last less than a year was up 170% — so in all, it’s very expensive to build, and that obviously means the home itself is going to have to be expensive.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Dori Monson on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dori monsonTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 12 noon for The Dori Monson Show.

Dori Monson Show

Dori Monson

Menacing pitbull...
Dori Monson Show

Woman attacked by pit bulls near homeless camp: ‘These dogs have more rights than me’

With more than 12 vicious dog bites on her legs and “way too many” stitches to count, Amy Craven was released from the hospital this week following an 11-day stay to recover from an attack by two pit bull terriers near North Lake Union.
4 days ago
Dori Monson Show

Dori: Former prison cellmate believes triple murderer is `not evil,’ should be freed

The 42-year-old case is back in the news after the Washington state Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board approved a summer release for Pauley.
5 days ago
Dori Monson Show

Dori: Triple killer to be released unless Gov. Inslee overrules parole board

After 42 years behind bars, convicted killer Timothy Pauley, 63, has been approved for release by the Washington Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board.
6 days ago
Marysville School District...
Dori Monson Show

Dori: Parent permission for Marysville school clubs becomes `hot button’ over LGTBQ issue

The intent to the proposed policy change, Atchley said, is to assure that parents “have the ability to know where their children are at all times.”
10 days ago
OlyToys, Don Wolph's toy refurbishing business in Olympia....
Dori Monson Show

Dori: Olympia Toy-Restorer ordered by County to kick disabled friend off his property

Wolph told Dori’s listeners, Thurston County officials have told him he and his wife of 47 years must evict their friend because “she cannot live on my property for more than 30 days.”
11 days ago
Sound Transit employee records video of homeless individuals on light rail. (Jason Rantz/KTTH Radio...
Dori Monson Show

Dori: The Sound Transit rolling drug den

Onboard: a series of apparently homeless drug addicts, riding the train while smoking various drugs or passed out across the seats.
13 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
How single-family zoning and regulatory fees lead to high housing costs in Seattle