Olympia Charges into the Housing Thicket


It normally takes weeks, not minutes for a bill to blast out of its home chamber, but that’s exactly what happened on Monday when the curtain rose in Olympia.

Before we even had the chance to put together our bingo cards for this session, a holdover from 2023 dashed through the House mere moments after the opening day pomp wound down. Yes, that lot-splitting bill from Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Lacey, is back and about as popular as ever. House Bill 1245 cleared the House (again) on Monday by a vote of 94-4, virtually the same score as before.

Land is something we’re not making any more of in Washington, so lot-splitting is a favored strategy of market-rate housing advocates for creating developable land while curbing sprawl. But it’s also something that raises hackles in some leafy enclaves where folks like their yards big and their neighbors comfortably distant.

It’s not necessarily clear sailing in the Senate. The “no” votes in the House all came from majority Democrats: Rep. Jake Fey of Tacoma, Rep. Tana Senn of Mercer Island, and Reps. Lisa Callan and Bill Ramos of Issaquah.

Senn, who represents perhaps the leafiest of these enclaves, tells us she believes the clock’s run out on this lot-splitting bid, which she gave a thumbs-up in 2023. Many King County cities, including hers, are updating their comprehensive plans right now. Because HB 1245 would kick in this year, and Senn feels that’s too narrow of a window for cities like hers to understand how lot-splitting interacts with middle housing and other land-use minutia. Callan told us something to that effect as well.

We should note that HB 1245’s risk of triggering “lotmaggedon” as critics label it is an interesting proposition for Mercer Island, which boasts some of the biggest minimum lot sizes in the state. The bill would allow the divided lots to be as small as 2,000 square feet, which isn’t exactly Stuart Little territory, but game-changing for Mercer Islanders.

Last year, HB 1245, a darling of the builders, Realtors, and other market-rate housing types, died in the Senate Committee on Local Government, Land Use & Tribal Affairs. It’ll be interesting how it fares in the killing ground of the Senate’s committee process this year.

A proposed expansion of co-housing

While we’re on the subject of housing policy, that co-living bill from Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, got some attention in Monday’s housing action. House Bill 1998 is being marketed as a means to increase the availability of shared living spaces for folks who don’t have a duplex or even a one-bedroom apartment in their budget.

It’s touted as a way for the building industry to provide cheaper housing without the controversial affordable housing mandates that helped sink a transit-oriented development bill last year. Folks in building circles say loosening rules for co-living spaces, or “adult dorms,” could help convert the unused office space that’s currently in ample supply around downtown areas.

There was a lot of agreement at the House Committee on Housing on Monday that co-living is a bona fide way to build more housing, but Carl Schroeder with the Association of Washington Cities reminded everyone that your typical Washingtonian—even in transit-plentiful Seattle— owns a car and wants a place to park it. Hence, AWC’s lukewarm stance on HB 1998’s virtual ban on off-street parking mandates.

Rep. Julia Reed, D-Seattle, posed the question of why cities from Anchorage to Austin are nixing parking mandates without provoking “carmaggedon.” Schroeder replied that hypothesis is largely untested.

If last year’s middle housing fight was any indication, expect a serious case of déjà vu as the co-living war percolates. HB 1998 is slated for possible action in House Housing soon.

Unemployment for striking workers?

Democrats are wading into yet another union fight with a proposal that would let striking workers collect unemployment while they walk the picket line. We found out this week just how not thrilled businesses are about that idea.

Senate Bill 5777 from Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, would guarantee that said workers could collect unemployment checks in their second week of pounding pavements. The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee got an earful on Tuesday from employers, chambers of commerce, and the Association of Washington Business who were a hard nope on that.

The core debate here is whether the unemployment system — which employers pay for via insurance premiums to cushion the blow when workers get laid off — should be available for strikers. This is part of a broader push to expand the conditions under which workers can claim unemployment.

Critics of the idea predicted SB 5777 would inevitably drain the state’s unemployment insurance fund. A fiscal note on that issue is forthcoming, but it’s likely employers would end up paying higher premiums to make up the difference.

Unions argued that inflation and cost-of-living increases have wreaked havoc on strike funds, so jobless benefits could be the only thing keeping families fed in the event of a strike. Moreover, strikes aren’t inevitable and employers could avoid them if they just did right by their workers in the first place. Given the union-friendly makeup of the Legislature, expect SB 5777 to show some life this year.

This article also appeared in The Washington Observer, where the author is a reporter.


  1. I’m genuinely curious.

    In what way does Gregerson’s bill change anything?

    Does any jurisdiction (certainly not Seattle) prevent renting out a room in a house with shared kitchen facilities? Does any jurisdiction prevent having a roommate?

    What am I missing? Thanks.
    (Yes, I have read the bill.)

  2. How about doing something to make speculative real estate investment unprofitable? Nah, let’s just let costs spiral, for the benefit of investor parasites.

    I expect that when it’s about real estate development industry deregulation, there’s good business in it for the legislators, isn’t there? But stepping on the financial interests financializing Washington real estate? who’s going to pay lobbyists or legislators a dime for that?

  3. “… reminded everyone that your typical Washingtonian—even in transit-plentiful Seattle— owns a car and wants a place to park it.”

    And if I may add — eventually will want a place to charge it.

  4. As to my question, I wrote to Gregerson’s office requesting clarification.

    (To my very pleasant surprise) Rep. Gregorson herself phoned me to explain. (Real class act I’d say.)

    What I hadn’t understood is that her proposal doesn’t simply cover single-family detached structures but it allows ALL residential structures to create “room-mate” apartments. For example, in a new five story residential structure, the units could be configured in a “roommate” design…kitchen, minimal common space and bedrooms.

    (Management issues such as keeping the kitchen & bathroom clean, roommate conflicts etc. are left to the capital market).

    If the risk/reward is acceptable to them, I say let them do it.

  5. Advocates of market driven density claim to be the most liberal ones in the room, but Rep. Barkis does much to put that idea to rest.
    He was open about HB1110 being a ‘supply-side bill’. He spoke even more openly about it in his April 20, 2023 KVI interview where he said he had no idea if it would ever deliver affordability. I urge readers to have a look at Rep. Barkis’s web site, especially the media page.
    HB 1245 pays lip service to affordability in its prohibition of demolition of an affordable home. Better than nothing. It also sets the minimum lot size after splitting to 1,500 sq. ft.
    The smaller the lot the more vegetation will be scraped off it, and under current rules (2,000 st. ft. in Seattle, I believe) those subdivisions are already pretty severe, with the removal of nearly all trees and many publicly owned trees in the ROWs as well.
    Does the author of this article really mean HB 1245 only ‘raises hackles in some leafy enclaves where folks like their yards big and their neighbors comfortably distant.’? These bills raise the hackles of many more who are concerned about avoiding heat islands, flooding, and general livability.

    • Ruth
      Can you cite _any_ specific examples (addresses?) of development in which “publicly owned trees in the ROWs” have been removed?

      • It’s commonly done for new driveways and construction access.
        1500 N 100th is under review right now. This is a steep slope lot, but stable, and containing a perfectly good driveway.
        The biggest tree there is a 34″ DBH Douglas fir. It’s in the ROW, and the developer wants to remove it and other ROW trees for the purpose of cutting in two new driveways.

        • Thanks, Ruth.
          Odd that the developer can’t find an alternative design and that the City would encourage it.

          Nevertheless, I think that such a situation — a tree, much less a significant one, in a right of way that is subject to development — is very unusual:.

          • Well, it’s common enough that HB 2071 – 2023-24 is intended to address it. ““Prohibits cities and counties from requiring off-street parking for residential projects … if compliance with tree retention or protection requirements otherwise make a proposed residential development infeasible.”


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