A Battle Brews Over Housing Density In Seattle

The newly elected Seattle City Council will take up the debate over single-family zoning in the city.

November 23, 2021, 10:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Single-Family Neighborhood

icaroferracin / Shutterstock

After a 2015 plan was put on hold due to public backlash, Seattle may once again consider allowing multi-family developments in neighborhoods traditionally zoned for single-family housing, reports David Kroman.

Amid a severe housing shortage and ever-climbing home prices, City Hall will soon crack open its Comprehensive Plan — a state-mandated 20-year roadmap for the city’s development. An update to the plan is due in 2024, but the groundwork for change is already being laid out by some elected officials and housing advocates.

But Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell disagrees with the plan to reduce single-family zoning, claiming that the recently approved Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) legislation that allows up to three units per single-family lot is already a major change for low-density neighborhoods.

As Kroman writes, a 2018 analysis of the city's 'urban villages' approach to increasing housing density found that the strategy's restriction on multi-unit housing actually perpetuated "a historical pattern of exclusionary zoning that should be examined and revised to be more racially equitable in the next plan update."

According to the article, Washington lags behind its West Coast neighbors on loosening restrictions on single-family zoning. While an update to the city's comprehensive plan will take time, Seattle's city council made a move to acknowledge the diverse types of housing already present in some residential communities by changing the name of single-family zoning to 'neighborhood residential' zoning.

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