Gee Scott: Should we upzone the entire state of Washington?

Dec 19, 2022, 4:06 PM | Updated: Dec 21, 2022, 2:23 pm
Trying to figure out next steps before the city tows away their RV during an upcoming sweep of the area, Michelle and John Tirado sit outside their RV along 3rd Avenue South and South Holgate Street. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
(Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Democrats pushed for a bill last year in Olympia that would have overturned local zoning laws statewide to open up the market for more “missing middle housing” — including duplexes, triplexes, backyard cottages, and tiny lot homes — in Washington state.

While that bill failed, Gov. Jay Inslee promised to bring it back this year.

“This really has been one of the most surprising movements regarding housing and affordability and equity issues,” said Mike Lewis, guest host of The Gee and Ursula Show.

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This idea was first seen in December 2018, when the Minneapolis City Council approved the Minneapolis 2040 comprehensive plan — a plan that includes legalizing two- and three-unit homes on once-single-family-only zoned land.

“I think the Inslee plan to do it at a state level is probably a bridge too far,” Lewis said. “But I would argue that what I think Jay Inslee is doing here is he’s trying to start off like utility companies.

“If they asked for a rate increase, they asked for 10% and then settle for 3%. I think Inslee is doing much of the same stuff. He is willing to back this one up, but he has to come out with something dramatic, so they can have a platform to negotiate.”

Gee Scott, co-host of The Gee and Ursula Show, believes people who already own homes are preventing progress when it comes to middle housing.

“‘The homeless is blocking my view.’ ‘They’re changing the character of my neighborhood.’ As long as we keep empowering those voices, we will continue to have the young generation not being able to buy homes,” Gee said. “And I don’t want to stay in that scenario.”

Missing middle housing is called “missing” because it has typically been illegal to build since the mid-1940s, according to Missing Middle Housing Organization. ‘Middle’ is used to define the units as they sit in the middle of a spectrum between detached single-family homes and mid-rise to high-rise apartment buildings.

“When it comes to this plan, that’s what we’re talking about as affordable. Missing middle housing is the type of housing that people can get into because starter homes basically do not exist anymore,” Lewis said. “[A] Seattle starter home is $680,000. Cottage homes are just not being built, they’re being torn down more often than not and multiple units are being put up on those same lots.

“I am very sympathetic to the governor’s plan to put missing middle housing in every part of the state because this is something my family could benefit from.”

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Last week, a Seattle homeowner, after originally wanting to build a four-unit structure on her property for her family in the Central District, is suing the city over a $77,000 permit required to break ground.

For an average Seattleite to be able to purchase a home in 2022, they would need to be making at least $151,833 to afford the median home price in the city. The solution, according to Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner, is to adjust Seattle’s rezoning laws to create more affordable housing — something Gee is throwing his full support behind.

Seattle home prices have been ballooning for the better part of a decade with the average home price going from $409,172 in 2010 to $860,000 in 2020, according to a report compiled by Construction Coverage.

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Gee Scott: Should we upzone the entire state of Washington?