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Washington Legislature considering bill that would require cities to allow duplexes, middle housing

Courtesy of Northwest Public Broadcasting

A Washington legislator is proposing a bill that would require most cities to allow duplexes and other smaller rental units near public transit lines. The proposal has wide support from housing advocates, real estate and the construction industry. But smaller cities are concerned.

Most Washington cities are experiencing a housing crisis. They have a patchwork of zoning regulations overseen by local governments. Most local governments allow duplexes or fourplexes in a few specific areas. But often they’re blocked from being built-in single-family neighborhoods. Senator Mona Das, a Democrat from Kent, argued that system means many working-class people have few housing options.

“It doesn't just construct more housing,” Das said. “It constructs housing where people need it, in areas half a mile from a major transit stop, like high capacity transit, commuter rail, fixed rail, bus rapid transit, state ferry terminals or bus stops. Cities with populations of 20,000 or more, would need to allow for missing middle housing types."

In a hearing Tuesday, Spokane Valley city councilman Arne Woodard spoke out against the proposal. He argued his city had already legalized some duplexes, and had taken other actions to improve density.

“Mandating zoning from a state lacks transparency, disenfranchises communities and is undemocratic,” Woodard said. “I urge you to allow Spokane Valley to continue implementing the actions we worked with our community to develop as part of our housing action plan.”

In addition to requiring affordable housing near transit, the bill would also require cities of ten-thousand or more to increase their density. Oregon and California have approved similar legislation. Governor Jay Inslee supports the bill, along with several legislative Democrats from Spokane.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.