Economist: Gov. Inslee’s proposal to rework single-family zoning ‘a good start’

Jan 11, 2022, 5:54 AM
Tacoma single family zoning...
Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood. (Jacob Rose, Wikimedia Commons)
(Jacob Rose, Wikimedia Commons)

Gov. Jay Inslee is pushing for a bill this legislative session that would alter single-family zoning requirements across many of the state’s major cities. Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner — who sits on Inslee’s economic advisory council — spoke to KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross to explain what the proposal would look like in practice.

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Other cities and states have enacted legislation to do away with single-family zoning entirely. That includes Minneapolis, as well as all of Oregon and California. The bill being proposed by Inslee, though, is more limited in scope.

“We certainly are aware of different parts of the country that have implemented that broad brushstroke plan of eviscerating single-family zoning,” Gardner said. “The difference here in Washington state is the proposal that the governor’s put forward is isolated within a certain proximity of mass transit stations.”

“Whether it be light rail, whether it be a bus — whatever it is — so it’s not arbitrary,” he added. “It’s not across the entire state in any single-family zone.”

More specifically, the bill would seek to allow townhomes, duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes — known more colloquially as “middle housing” — in areas within a half mile of transit stops in cities with populations over 20,000, affecting just over 70 cities in Washington.

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In many ways, it echoes a recently-passed bill passed in Tacoma, which recategorized the city’s zoning classifications to allow for more middle housing options in areas near transit hubs that have traditionally been set aside exclusively for single-family homes.

Gardner has long pushed for cities like Seattle to reimagine their approach to zoning, labeling Inslee’s bill a solid first step toward that goal.

“It’s not broad, but it’s certainly a good start,” he noted.

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Economist: Gov. Inslee’s proposal to rework single-family zoning ‘a good start’