Bill to legalize duplexes, fourplexes in Washington advances

A bill that would legalize duplexes and fourplexes in most neighborhoods in nearly every Washington city has cleared another committee in the state Legislature.

House Bill 1110 passed the House Appropriations Committee on Friday with a bipartisan 25-5 vote, The Seattle Times reported.

The goal is to increase the housing supply in cities.

"The longer we postpone building that housing at a sustainable level, the more we’re going to see home and rent prices increase," said Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, the lead sponsor. "We have to make it easier to build nimbler, smaller housing options for people, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes."

The bill has bipartisan support and a Republican co-sponsor in Rep. Andrew Barkis, of Olympia.

"It’s about removing the barriers, just getting out of the way," Barkis said.

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The push to add more housing density could eventually mean the end of many neighborhoods made up exclusively of single-family homes.

The state Department of Commerce estimates Washington needs to build an additional 1 million homes over the next couple of decades or more to keep pace with population growth.

Previous versions of the legislation have failed as some argued for local zoning control.

States have increasingly overridden municipal rules as populations grow. Oregon eliminated single-family zoning in 2019, and California largely did the same in 2021.

In Washington, the Association of Washington Cities, a lobbying group representing cities and towns, previously used the argument of local control to lead opposition to the legislation.

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This year, the group is working to shape the bill by excluding the smallest cities and towns from the legislation and on other tweaks toward "a more nuanced approach," Carl Schroeder, the group’s deputy director of government relations, said.

Several cities — particularly in affluent suburbs east of Seattle — remain opposed, worried about too much growth and not enough parking, among other infrastructure, to keep up with a potential uptick in new residents.

In Seattle, most residential areas allow at least three units per lot with significant restrictions following a 2019 change. Mayor Bruce Harrell remains noncommittal on the legislation in Olympia.

The bill would require cities with populations between 25,000 and 75,000 to allow duplexes in all residential areas. Any area within a half-mile of a major transit stop, park or school would have to allow fourplexes. And fourplexes would be allowed anywhere if one unit meets affordable housing requirements.

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In cities of over 75,000 people, all residential areas would have to allow fourplexes. Areas near major transit, parks or schools would have to allow six-plexes, which would be allowed anywhere if two of the units are affordable.

The bill’s supporters emphasize that these changes wouldn’t force developers to build these projects.

"This is very modest — this is not high-rises in neighborhoods," said state Sen. Yasmin Trudeau, D-Tacoma, who is sponsoring a Senate version of the legislation.

The bill next heads to the House Rules Committee and then must pass the full House and the Senate before reaching Gov. Jay Inslee's desk.