On May 8, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1110, which aims to create more homes for Washington by increasing the density of housing in areas traditionally dedicated to single-family detached housing. The bill will allow housing like duplexes, fourplexes, etc. in areas previously zoned as single-family dwellings only, and will override current Washington cities’ zoning ordinances.
“HB 1110 is a very large step in the right direction to help Washington meet the housing needs of its individuals and families,” said Phil Wuest, chief development officer with Ginn Group in Vancouver. “Increased flexibility to build at moderately higher densities using a range of middle housing product types – townhomes, cottages, courtyard apartments, stacked flats – will help increase supply and variety in Clark County’s housing options.”
Wuest said that these entry-level housing types tend to work well as for-rent or for-sale and are almost always the product types that allow working families to grasp that “first rung” of the housing ownership ladder, which then sets them on course to, over time, build equity, housing security and, ultimately, intergenerational wealth.
“Achieving these goals, family by family, helps the entire community by creating stability and long-term commitment to civic and community institutions like schools, parks, sports clubs, issue-specific nonprofit organizations and churches,” Wuest said. “Good, attainably priced housing, good schools, nice open spaces and enduring community institutions ultimately make places like Clark County very attractive to employers. The middle housing promised by HB 1110 will help create the virtuous community development cycle that starts with attainably priced housing, whether for rent or purchase.”
Mike Lamb, Realtor and certified residential specialist with Windermere Northwest Living, said that Washington Realtors supported HB 1110 and other bills addressing housing availability and affordability, both of which are very real challenges for people in Clark County and all of Southwest Washington. Lamb said that it’s important to note that this legislation doesn’t affect properties that have CC&Rs restricting further subdivision in effect when the bill was signed. He said it is also important to note that this bill doesn’t ban single-family housing.
“What this bill does is it allows people with larger lots to create another living unit, or if near transit up to a maximum of four living units on a parcel,” Lamb said. “For some property owners this allows them to build multi-generational living for their loved ones. In the course of my career I’ve often had clients who really wanted that, but it has been very difficult to find.”
Lamb pointed out that property owners could also create a rental to provide additional income, or they could build an ADU to provide a place for a friend or caregiver to live.
“This legislation provides much-needed flexibility,” he said. “Until now those options to create what is being called middle housing were really limited. While some have called this a boon for developers, I believe these projects are more mom-and-pop projects that I believe will provide much-needed affordable housing.”
Wuest said that HB 1110 will take a long time to have any visible or practical impact, as the deadline for enacting these changes in local zoning code in Clark County isn’t until June 30, 2025, although jurisdictions could choose to act sooner than the deadline.
“As a practical matter, enacting changes of this magnitude takes time because there are so many vested interests and so many areas of important public policy are implicated,” Wuest said. “If zoning code is enacted in June of 2025, it will likely take until 2027 or 2028 until the impacts of the new law might start to be seen as completed projects. That’s a long time to wait for housing that, according to HB 1110, is critical to address an unprecedented housing crisis that exists today.”
Wuest also said that Clark County is unique in that much of its urban development exists in urban, unincorporated Clark County (most of it inside the Vancouver Urban Growth Boundary, but outside any City Limit). As drafted, HB 1110 only applies to cities, so not urban Clark County where a lot of the development potential might exist. However, Wuest said Clark County is doing a lot of good work on their housing code even without the new state law, which he said shows great foresight by the area’s local leaders.
“At Ginn Group, we don’t want to overlook the great work the city of Vancouver and Clark County have done, even without the mandate imposed by HB 1110,” he said. “Both Clark County and the city of Vancouver have made important and meaningful progress towards improving opportunities for middle housing, including cottage developments, smaller lot development and more flexible planned unit development ordinances, which allow developers a certain flexibility and creativity to demonstrate how development proposals can meet the intent of housing policies and zoning codes.”
Rebecca Kennedy, deputy director of the city of Vancouver’s Community Development Department, oversees the city’s Comprehensive Planning team that will lead code changes to support more housing options. She said the city is currently updating its Comprehensive Plan, in compliance with the State Growth Management Act. This plan sets the overall 20-year vision for how the city will grow and develop and is called Our Vancouver.
“As part of this update as well as other efforts, the city will be looking at a wide variety of methods and strategies to deliver more housing supply in the community and respond to our current housing crisis, a lot of which can be attributed to long-term underproduction of housing that did not keep up with decades of population growth,” Kennedy said. “One of the strategies we will explore and incorporate middle housing, in accordance with legislation like HB 1110 that the governor recently signed and requires us to allow construction of up to four residential units on a single lot (six units within one-fourth mile of transit or if two units are affordable).”
Kennedy said the city anticipates developing specific goals and policies around HB 1110 that will be included in the housing chapter of the Comprehensive Plan. She said this will result in updates to Title 20 of the Vancouver Municipal Code as well.
“We recognize that this is a change and will work with the community to get feedback on different approaches for responding to the recently passed registration,” she said. “This is only one of many strategies we need to move forward to address the regional housing crisis, and that it can be done in a way that enhances and supports thriving, active, and livable neighborhoods, where residents can age in place and residents can walk, bike or roll to a variety of amenities, services and activities within their neighborhoods – promoting a healthy quality of life, and reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from vehicle trips.”