The Washington State Senate should not pass house bill 1110, which would allow four to six units on every residential lot in Seattle and take away local control on zoning decisions throughout the state.
Yes, undoubtedly we have a housing crisis with an unconscionable number of neighbors living unhoused and rising housing costs. But is it because we don’t have enough room in our current zoning to build more housing? Definitely not.
According to the 2021 King County Urban Growth Capacity Report, “[zoning] capacity is sufficient to accommodate the remainder of its 2035 housing and employment growth targets, and looking ahead, sufficient to accommodate projected future growth during the next planning period.”
Similarly, the City of Seattle reports that Seattle currently has a population of 762,500 people and 388,133 housing units, with an average of 2.06 people per housing unit. Meaning Seattle currently has enough housing units for an additional 37,000 people above our current population. In other words, we have enough unoccupied homes to invite everyone in the city of Longview, WA to move to Seattle.
Like a lot of bills that start with good intentions, this bill is going to lead to a great deal of unintended consequences. And most importantly it won’t work to fix our housing crisis.
Why? Because we don’t lack the zoning capacity to build more housing, it's not a limiting factor. California passed a similar bill in 2021 that allows four units on every lot previously zoned as single family. But a recent study by the University of California, Berkley showed it did little to increase housing production and this bill will be the same.
House Bill 1110 will further allow developers to build whatever they want, wherever they want in search of higher profits, not the higher good. This bill does not protect the historic buildings and districts that are important to Seattleites. In addition, it will stress our aging infrastructure, not allow for local planning, and threaten the already decreasing tree canopy that gives the Emerald City its nickname.
Building more market rate housing will not address housing affordability. What we really lack is affordable, especially publicly owned, housing. And social safety nets to help our most in need.
We only need to look to Europe with their vastly improved social welfare systems, to realize it is possible to have minimal homelessness, have dense cities, and have cities that are even (gasp!) attractive.
Many European cities have considerable building regulations, resulting in buildings of a higher standard than we see in Seattle today. But it doesn’t lead to higher homelessness because European social safety nets are usually vastly superior to what we see in the US. We should follow this European model of improving social supports such as emergency rent assistance to address homelessness in Seattle and stop chasing a zoning problem that doesn't exist.
Seattle should build more multi-family housing in the areas currently zoned for it, and there is plenty of capacity in current zoning to do so. Encourage more backyard cottages and attached apartments in neighborhood residential zones (previously known as single family).
But if the State abolishes this last zone altogether, it will decrease the supply of single family homes on the market, which will further drive up the prices of these family friendly houses. And with many families still striving to own a single family home and build generational wealth, it will put this American Dream out of reach for even more people.
On March 17th, the State Senate will hold a public hearing on House Bill and sign up for commenting can be found here. Public comments on the bill can also be made electronically on this link. The Senate should vote no on the well intentioned but poorly thought out House Bill 1110.