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"Mother-in-law apartments" gain favor in Olympia, Boise

Doug Nadvornick/Spokane Public Radio
Accessory dwelling units like this one in Spokane may become more common in Washington and Idaho as officials look to increase affordable housing options.

The Washington and Idaho legislatures advance proposals to make "accessory dwelling units" more common.

Legislators in Washington and Idaho are getting closer to allowing more types of so-called “accessory dwelling units.” The goal is to create more affordable housing.

In Boise on Wednesday, the Idaho Senate voted to allow homeowners to create apartments in their homes for relatives or renting to tenants.

“Not inside a duplex or four-plex, but inside a single detached home that you could then modify the garage or the basement or an attic or another room into another dwelling unit," said Republican Senator Geoff Schroeder, who supports the legislation.

"An internal accessory dwelling unit does not include an alternative detached structure, motor home, camper, recreational vehicle, tiny home on wheels or other such similar dwellings on wheels," said one of the bill's sponsors, Pocatello Democrat James Ruchti.

"That addresses many of the concerns that you may have heard about from individuals who had heard about the legislation but didn’t know the intimate details about it, but they were just worried that suddenly in their neighborhood there were going to be these detached units popping up all over their neighborhoods," he said.

Schroeder says the bill does not allow homeowners’ associations, for the most part, to make rules prohibiting so-called “mother-in-law apartments," though those organizations "may adopt reasonable rules governing the use of internal accessory dwelling units otherwise allowed by law, including but not limited to size limits, height limits, setback requirements, open space requirements, parking controls, and bedroom requirements," according to the bill's language.

Schroeder says it also allow cities and counties to create their own regulations.

The bill has already been approved by the state House and now goes to the governor.

In Olympia, a similar bill was voted out of a House committee on Monday. It would require medium-sized and larger cities and counties to create rules for accessory dwelling units while giving them some regulatory flexibility. That bill has already sailed through the Senate and is now eligible for debate and a vote in the full House.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.