Is Seattle’s Single-Family Zoning Disappearing?

Apr 9, 2018

Ask anyone who’s lived in the Puget Sound area for at least the five years, and they will all agree on one thing:

“Seattle has changed. A lot.”

Nothing is proof of that more than the dozens of cranes, closed lanes, and construction sites in and around the greater Seattle area. In fact, driving down any major road, you’re sure to pass at least three construction zones.

There’s a reason for all this: people are moving to Seattle in masses. With our high employment rates and high standards of living, transplants are looking to get in on the action. The problem is we’ve run out of housing and have reached a level of housing inventory that can barely sustain even a month at a time.

Why is housing inventory so low, even when construction is seemingly everywhere you look? Many Seattleites believe it is due to a large amount of single-family zoning in and around the city. However, that may be changing.

Related Article: Seattle Zoning Changes to Expect in 2018

Seattle’s Changing Neighborhoods

This summer, the transformation for many Seattle’s neighborhoods to become urban villages is anticipated to begin. This is a part of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA)’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) plan.

This plan is designed to create more housing choices for Seattle’s working-class families, ensuring they’re able to remain in the city we all know and love.

It works by mandating zoning changes, affordability requirements, and design standards. In other words, it eliminates a portion of single-family zoning and requires developers to adhere to affordable standards.

This, along with the zoning changes that occurred with the recent light rail expansion plan, is resulting in a lower amount of single-family zoning in Seattle neighborhoods where there were no such thing as townhomes before.

Related Article: 3 Ways Rezoning Boosts Affordable Housing in Seattle

The Implications of Zoning Changes

For many of Seattle’s current and future residents, this is a positive step forward. In a housing climate where inventory is low and housing costs are high, increased density could mean a breath of fresh air for those struggling to find an affordable place to live.

According to a recent article by The Urbanist, eliminating single-family zoning could result in benefits including affordable new construction, more access to schools and parks, and allows for commercial uses that form the identity of walkable communities.

For others, particularly those who have been a Seattle resident for the last 10+ years, this upzoning causes anxiety around losing the neighborhood character they’ve come to know and love.

Related Article: The Pros and Cons of Upzoning in Seattle

According to a 2015 article in Seattle Weekly titled Anatomy of a NIMBY, the basic idea behind the preservationists opposing development stems from the idea that:

“…market-based housing development […] is synonymous with gentrification, displacement, and the sacrifice of Seattle’s soul for the sake of developer profits.”

No matter which way you look at it, the fact is Seattle needs drastic changes if we hope to continue to accept newcomers to our city. Although the issue is often easier to talk about than to figure out a solution to (which is saying a lot – this controversial topic is not so easy to discuss), it’s one we must work to figure out.

Click here to access an interactive map of MHA

Are you located on a rezoned property and ready to get out before changes take hold? Reach out to us – we can get you out of your house and moved on to the next stage in your life.

425.278.HEIR (4347)