WA zoning law changes will exempt some wealthy neighborhoods

A Washington state bill recently passed by both houses of the legislature would lift the zoning restrictions on certain types of multifamily properties, called “middle housing,” in areas zoned for single-family housing. The changes to the restrictions are set to occur in the midst of a statewide housing supply shortage.

However, neighborhoods with associations or other “common interest communities” with legally-binding zoning rules would be exempt, according to the Seattle Times.

In particular, provisions in the bill state that the zoning rules already established by homeowners associations (HOAs) and other “common interest communities” cannot be superseded by the new bill once it becomes law.

“Declarations and governing documents of a common interest community within cities subject to the middle housing requirements […] that are created after the effective date of this section may not actively or effectively prohibit the construction, development, or use of additional housing units,” the bill states.

The term “common interest communities” can apply to larger planned developments or smaller housing subdivisions and condominiums, according to the Times.

What this essentially means is that many wealthier communities — those in and around Seattle in particular — would be exempt from impacts from the new law.

Lead bill sponsor Rep. Jessica Bateman (D) told the outlet that zoning rules in these communities are pre-existing and legally binding, and the legislature is limited in its ability to change those rules.

“We can’t go back and retroactively change the conditions that have been signed into in those legal documents,” Bateman said.

As with many other areas of the country, Washington state is facing a housing shortage. A recent report published by the Washington State Office of Financial Management estimates that the state will need to construct 1 million additional housing units by 2044 to meet the state’s housing needs.

The bill’s supporters have described it as necessary in order to combat the high housing costs in the Pacific Northwest, which have also led to an increase in homelessness that leaders have struggled to address.

In addition to the creation of new middle housing developments, the new bill is a potential boon for those seeking to construct accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their existing properties. ADUs have seen an increase in demand across many areas in the nation, including Washington state.

The “middle housing” bill — HB 1110 — was passed in its final form on April 18 and signed off on by House and Senate leaders on April 20. It was delivered to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D) the following day and currently awaits his signature.