The middle housing bill we’ve written about in Washington Observer survived the House, but with substantial carve-outs for local governments keen on killing it.
House Bill 1110 from Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, is a popular pick among the myriad ideas to increase the supply of housing. The original bill was a blueprint to create more housing around public transit, broaden the types of housing that neighborhoods can permit, and beat down housing prices by shoring up the housing supply.
That means building stuff urbanists interested in walkable communities love to see —duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, etc. — and kickstarting housing projects that builders want to build and Realtors want to sell. It also means paving over homeowner associations’ power to mandate off-street parking on new development and upending decades-old zoning codes that city councils aren’t eager to rewrite.
Like many bills that live this long in Olympia, HB 1110 is stuffed with concessions. Two of those concessions came from Rep. Bateman. One would allow cities to hold off on permitting denser housing if they lack ample water supply or fire services. Cities such as Mercer Island have claimed this is a problem for them. They would have until June 30, 2032, to enact the bill.
A huge change Bateman put on the table limits HB 1110 to cities of 75,000 people or more or cities within an urban growth area with the largest city in their county. Right off the bat, that would include 16 cities minimum, including Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, Tacoma, Bellingham, Yakima, Vancouver, and Spokane, based on 2020 census data. King County’s urban growth boundary includes many of Seattle’s smaller suburbs. That change leaves much of rural Washington alone.
A host of last-minute tweaks to HB 1110 came from its staunchest critics on Monday night. Per two amendments from Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, cities wouldn’t have to roll out the welcome wagon for sixplexes within a quarter-mile of a community amenity such as a school or a park. Instead, that level of density will only be required near frequent transit services.
One of the broader amendments of the night came from Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, who has been an opponent of this idea in the past. It lets cities exempt areas where increasing density raises the risk of displacing low-income residents. Pollet voiced reservations on what kind of middle housing will end up being built long term — think swanky condos instead of affordable apartments. That’s a question we’re hearing more frequently in the broader housing debate.
HB 1110 passed the House by 75-21, with three suburban Democrats — Rep. Amy Walen of Kirkland, Rep. Larry Springer of Kirkland, and Rep. Chris Stearns of Auburn — in opposition. Expect things to get dicier in the Senate where HB 1110 is going to get caught in a tug-of-war between moderates and progressives gunning for even more tweaks.
This article first appeared in The Washington Observer, where author Tim Gruver is a political reporter.