Cities get $125,000 for middle housing planning

WA awards $75K to Camas, $50K to Washougal to support policies that help increase housing capacity

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The Washington State Department of Commerce has awarded the city of Camas with $75,000 and the city of Washougal with $50,000 to support the adoption of policies and codes and the implementation of other measures specific to a Washington state bill which encourages and requires local governments to adopt development regulations aimed at increasing housing capacity in response to the state’s housing crisis.

“We are honored to have been awarded this grant,” Washougal Community Development Mitch Kneipp said. “The program will begin to help address housing challenges we’re experiencing in Washougal and the entire state.”

Commerce announced in mid-November, that it had awarded nearly $3 million to 54 cities to support the adoption of local comprehensive plan policies and zoning codes that will allow more middle housing in residential neighborhoods.

Increasing the availability and variety of different housing types “is essential to address the shortage that continues to drive up home prices and rents, threatening the potential for homeownership and financial security of many Washington residents in communities throughout the state, not just urban centers,” according to a news release.

“Middle housing” is defined in Washington state law as buildings such as duplexes, fourplexes, townhouses, courtyard apartments or cottage housing that are compatible in scale, form, and character with single-family houses and contain two or more attached, stacked or clustered homes, according to the news release.

“Middle housing and accessory dwelling units can increase homeownership opportunities, add to the diversity of rental housing, and allow families at every stage of life to stay in the communities they call home,” Commerce Director Mike Fong stated in the news release. “Data show we need a million more homes in our state over the next 20 years to address the growing challenge of housing affordability, and middle housing is a critical piece to reach that goal.”

House Bill 1110, enacted in the 2023 legislative session, requires 77 communities to revise their zoning codes to allow middle housing buildings of two to six units per lot in residential neighborhoods in addition to the requirement to allow two accessory dwelling units per lot within urban growth areas, according to the news release.

“We are in a significant time of action to meet our state’s housing needs,” Dave Andersen, Commerce’s managing director of growth management services, said in the news release. “These grants will help local governments to change local land zoning to allow appropriately-scaled infill development in residential neighborhoods.”

The city of Washougal will use the funds to generate a public engagement plan and a public engagement results report; draft middle housing comprehensive plan policies and middle housing development regulations; and adopt a comprehensive plan which includes middle housing plan policies and middle housing development regulations, according to community development director Mitch Kneipp.

“We need to develop the goals and policies around middle housing for Washougal and then put the regulations in place to implement HB 1110,” Kneipp said. “It takes time and money to develop these regulations, vet them with the public, and run them through an adoption process. The state had a grant available for jurisdictions who had to comply with HB 1110. We were one, so we asked for the money to help with our planning efforts, and we are grateful that we received it.”

The city of Washougal is planning to engage with a consultant to help put together its comprehensive plan update, which is scheduled to be completed by June 2025, “and this work will be part of those efforts,” Kneipp said.

“Washougal is required to comply with HB 1110,” Kneipp said. “In Clark County, HB 1110 only affects Vancouver, Camas and Washougal. Under the bill, Vancouver is a tier-one city, Camas is a tier-two city, and we are a tier-three city. This means that we are mandated to adopt regulations that would allow duplexes on lots that were previously designated for single-family only. Another bill mandates that we allow up to two ADUs in these single-family zones as well. Together, both of these bills are meant to address ‘middle housing,’ and we currently do not have any regulations in place that would comply with these mandates.”

Likewise, the city of Camas is starting work on its comprehensive plan, and also will need to incorporate the new state requirements regarding middle housing.

For “tier-two” cities like Camas, with a population between 25,000 and 75,000, House Bill 1110 would allow two units per lot to be built anywhere and would allow four units per lot within one-half mile of a public transit stop or if one of the four units was considered affordable housing. The bill also says city codes cannot make the process for these units more restrictive than they do for single-family homes.