State lawmakers considering legislation that would allow multifamily housing in single-family zones


Edmonds — along with dozens of other cities across the state — could be in for a significant zoning change if the Washington State Legislature passes legislation allowing multifamily housing in areas now designed for single-family homes. It is a big “if,” since this is the fourth time lawmakers have considered the legislation, but for the first time Gov. Jay Inslee has thrown his political weight behind the zoning changes.

Substitute Senate Bill 5670 and House Bill 1782 would allow duplexes and up to six-unit buildings to be constructed in some Edmonds neighborhoods. The issue is the political hot potato of the 2022 session.

But both bills face a Feb. 15 deadline — the last day to consider (pass) bills in the chamber (the House or Senate) in which they originated. Both passed out of their initial committees and are moving on; no floor votes are yet scheduled. In addition, lawmakers are wrestling with other critical legislation that includes rewriting police reform bills and addressing growth guidelines, transportation, firearms, the environment and elections.

The housing legislation is important because if it becomes law, it would upend local zoning codes. The two bills being considered allow for:

Creating additional middle housing near transit and in areas traditionally dedicated to single-family detached housing.”

— Language of SSB 5670 and HB 1782

If passed, the legislation would apply to any city in the state with a population of 20,000 or more. It calls for allowing multi-family replacement in any single-family neighborhood within a half-mile walk of “a major transit stop.” In Edmonds, that includes the ferry terminal, Sounder train station and at the Rapid Transit bus stops on Highway 99. It could include bus stops that provide service every 15 minutes, but a city source tells us Edmonds bus routes do not operate that often. The bills also give these communities some “wiggle room” and allows them to create a housing formula “to determine the minimum number of units they need to take and then allowing them to put that density where they want so long as their plans don’t perpetuate housing segregation.”

Rendering of 234th Street Apartments on Highway 99, which are now under construction.

That would seem to reinforce the vision in the city’s current Comprehensive Plan, which is adding more housing along portions of Highway 99. The 241 units in the building above, near the south end of the portion of Highway 99 running through Edmonds, are nearing completion.

The legislation would also require cities to allow duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes in neighborhoods that are more than a half mile from transit stops. It calls for cities to update their comprehensive plans two years after the legislation passes to permit these housing types.

21st District Sen. Marko Liias
32nd District Rep. Cindy Ryu

Two lawmakers representing portions of Edmonds — 21st District Sen. Marko Liias (D-Everett) and 32nd District Rep.Cindy Ryu (D-Shoreline) are among the bill’s sponsors.

The idea behind the measures is to cut the cost of new housing by allowing the smaller multiplexes in neighborhoods that currently allow only single-family units; those who move in split the high cost of the land. The legislation doesn’t guarantee a lower price on these housing types, but affordable housing advocates have argued that this denser housing would be cheaper.

Preserving single-family zoning is perhaps the biggest hot-button issue in Edmonds. The Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission was formed by a resolution of the Edmonds City Council on April 16, 2019 with the following mission statement:

“Develop diverse housing policy options for (City) Council consideration designed to expand the range of housing (including rental and owned) available in Edmonds; options that are irrespective of age, gender, race, religious affiliation, physical disability or sexual orientation”

Among the recommendations the commission submitted in January 2021 were proposals for the city to address the issues of “missing middle” housing in single-family neighborhoods, equity housing incentives, medium density single-family housing, creation of neighborhood villages and cluster, or cottage housing options.

Of all the commission’s recommendations, the following got the most pushback in the Citizens Housing Commission poll conducted in August 2020:

  • 56% of respondents in one housing poll “strongly opposed” guidelines/incentives for duplexes/townhomes in lieu of single-family units.
    • They cited “opposition to increasing density in single-family neighborhoods”
  • 57% supported creating multi-family housing transition zones near transit or neighborhood business
    • But 42% opposed that idea.
Councilmember Will Chen

The Edmonds City Council has studied some of the commission’s recommendations but has not taken action on these particular items.  Councilmember Will Chen, who had served on the Edmonds Housing Commission before his election, summed up the dilemma Edmonds faces: “I want to protect single-family zoning while finding solutions to meet the housing needs by increasing density where it makes sense,” he said.

The states of Oregon and California have already passed laws on these housing issues. If the state Legislature does pass similar legislation, all cities will face tough questions and even harder decisions. Gov. Inslee offered to take some of the heat off local politicians, telling reporters that the locals can blame him.

“Washingtonians really want a solution to this problem,” the governor said, “but we know the only way to do that is to increase density, and that is a little more controversial. So, I think the state needs to step up and take some leadership on this.”

We will know very soon if lawmakers in Olympia are willing to do just that.

— By Bob Throndsen

Editor’s note: Reporter Bob Throndsen is a former member of the Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission, which was disbanded after issuing its final report in January 2021.

15 Replies to “State lawmakers considering legislation that would allow multifamily housing in single-family zones”

  1. “Two lawmakers representing portions of Edmonds — 21st District Sen. Marko Liias (D-Everett) and 32nd District Rep.Cindy Ryu (D-Shoreline) are among the bill’s sponsors.”

    Bad news. I wonder who these Edmonds lawmakers think they represent. Especially with strong local opposition to this kind of zoning. They are correct in a way, by degrading single-family neighborhoods it will make them more affordable.


  2. Makes one wonder what developers are paying off Inslee, Liias, and Ryu…

    Dirty money here??

    Follow the money…


  3. I think the community has made it clear what we want and what we don’t want. The Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission’s first survey resulted in 78% of respondents reported they agree it is important that single family neighborhoods remain zoned as single family. Our neighbors to the north, Mukilteo, just had a Proposition on this past November’s ballot with an overwhelmingly strong 82% vote similarly favoring single family zoning.

    So, who are these lawmakers listening too and representing? The relators and developers are pushing this through Olympia. Those who have no vested interest in our community other than to make a profit and run. As Mr. Drechsler said, this is bad news for Edmonds if this legislation passes.

    Full disclosure – I was a member of the Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission


    1. The city has land they will give away for free to facilitate 2 or 3 affordable housing projects?
      And , a few construction companies will build them for half price or less?
      That is…amazing!
      Sadly, This proposal by Will Chen actually makes it almost impossible to do anything…and he knows it.
      Yup, ask Edmonds residents to basically rezone the whole city….and watch the affordable housing issue get completely erased….
      Don’t be played, Edmonds….you are smarter than that.
      Personally, a couple of truly affordable projects would be nice for the business sector( employment)
      The city has a few good plots…….to build on.


  4. Let’s analyze this. It’s a great idea for the city to tell you you can’t have an ADU on your private property or cut your own trees. But it’s a really bad idea for the state to tell you, you can do what you want with your private property in the interest of providing more housing for all, or people you would like to help house (parent, sibling, disabled adult child etc.).

    What single family zoned home owners really
    want is for the government to be their home owners association where none otherwise exists. Either way this isn’t my idea of living in the land of the free. Too many rules already; mostly favoring the wealthy I think. Young people and hard working relatively poor folks have a tough row to hoe now in America. That’s why a phony like Trump has been so popular lately. Gonna make America Great Again! Lots of folks are grasping at straws just to feel a little hopeful about the future.


  5. There is legitimate statistical information that building density (apartments/condos/etc.) favors the democrat party. People living in dense areas vote democrat and people in less dense areas vote republican. Both lawmakers are democrat and want to secure their future political prospects. This has everything to do with self preservation at all costs. They will tell you
    It is about providing more housing for people in need etc. but it is all about control and political longevity. So ask yourself is this the type of politician you want representing you next time you vote?


  6. I’ve come to realize that our whole two political party system with their litmus test dogmas are almost always the problem and almost never the solution in modern times. The founding fathers did not visualize a party system of government. Their vision was private property owners , mostly farmers, plantation owners, and a very few small business owners governing. They would meet periodically to make what few laws and decisions that had to be made to run a country founded by the people and for the people (the people being white males and or business owners) after debate and finding consensus. The House Representatives were voted on by the people in each state and the Upper House Senators chosen by the state governors. The legislation jobs were temporary; a public service for little monetary gain, and never meant to be a life long profession or joined at the hip to a political party. The same true for the Presidency. The two party system and professional political class is what evolved. It has not served us well as of late. We’ve never really decided what we are or what we should become as a people. Our political system is propelling us toward civil war and anarchy. People living in tents on the Court House lawns are a symptom not a cause. They are domestic refugees from a failed system. Ronald Reagon has just as much to do with the symptoms as Joseph Biden, Barack Obama or Jay Inslee. Good ideas solve problems, not political dogmas. The right supports inequality, voter suppression, and extreme wealth while the left attacks private property rights and individual ownership of one’s actions toward themselves and others.


  7. Clinton, this is a first time I really disagree with you. Our government was set up with all sorts of checks and balances. The problem, as I see it, is we are not following the constitution. Throwing in white privilege is even more insane. We need to limit the law suits, and make government have the same laws as we do. (Especially medical) Term limits, limit family members working for elected officials, no stock market participation. (That May start the term limits) and stop paying millions to CDC leaders…what??? Highest paid employee??


  8. With all due respect Joy I think we are both sort of saying the same thing but from a little different angle. Anyway, I really agree with a lot of what you are saying as I often do. At the time the Constitution was written there was no concept of “white privilege” being a bad thing, it was just assumed that white males who owned property were indeed superior in ability and intelligence and deserved to be the only ones who made the rules.

    This was really the first time in history the divine right of Kings to rule was seriously questioned and it was a big controversial deal. It’s a minor miracle American democracy even exists and it was a very narrow based democracy in the beginning. That’s just a fact. Some other countries then developed democracies modeled somewhat on ours but usually came to have multiple parties not just two.

    What’s happened over time is we’ve evolved a political party class of elites (both parties) with special benefits as you state. Becoming a State Senator is just about a sure guarantee to become extremely wealthy with extraordinary benefits for life. Same with lesser offices to a lesser extent down the line to Dog Catcher I guess. Same thing with the Presidency where things like judicial pardons and executive privilege were handed down from the divine right of Kings concept. The goal isn’t to serve the people anymore; the goal is to keep a cushy job in some cases and wield power over the people in some cases, or do both.


  9. This is more than just a “housing crisis” issue……this is the ongoing destruction of green belts and the environment in general. What will the world look? We already have more concrete the steel than gardens and grass. Rooftop gardening is an option many pursue, but the elderly cannot maintain that kind of activity. Multi-level buildings will further destroy the already depleted scenery and views; people who rent rather that own, don’t reflect the same kind of property ownership integrity as single-firmly home-owners. Seems the government won’t be happy until they take away yet another one of our rights, and house and control the entire human race in a “skinner box” environment. And yes, I am asking as well…..who benefits from this? Not the taxpayer or home owner!


  10. I’m kind of back to the thought of suggesting “No Vacancy” signs on all our “Welcome to Edmonds – The Home of Creative Ideas” signs. Welcome to visit and spend big cash, but please don’t hang around past the party’s over hour. We may not be the hypocrisy capitol of the world, but we are getting close.

    Personally, I’d like both the state and the city to mostly butt out of my private property business. Our home is on two city lots (lots sized before the great Edmond’s McMansion boom) but the city says we can only have one single family dwelling on it. I’ve figured out my own ways to combat most of our city’s arbitrary rules to benefit the special people, so really no big deal, but the arrogance and hypocrisy so often expressed around here is almost oppressive at times.


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