Washington Could Legalize Single-Staircase Buildings

Supporters of ‘point access blocks,’ which are common in Europe and other parts of the world, say the design maximizes living space and lowers the cost of construction.

2 minute read

February 8, 2023, 12:00 PM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


The Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. | Cascade Creatives / Shutterstock

A bill proposed in the Washington State Senate would legalize “point access blocks,” a type of multi-story building with a single stairway and elevator that supporters argue would allow for more affordable housing construction. Writing in The Urbanist, Mike Eliason explains why he supports the bill, outlining the benefits of one-staircase buildings for affordability and building design.

While single-staircase construction is allowed by international building code and common in many parts of the world, many U.S. cities require two staircases as a fire safety measure. Meanwhile, Seattle is the only U.S. city to have adapted its code to allow point access blocks for buildings up to five stories (six for mixed-use projects), provided they meet other safety regulations. 

The proposed bill, SB 5491, would allow all other Washington cities to adopt Seattle’s model. Eliason writes, “I believe that allowing taller point access blocks statewide will unlock more small-scale development without the need for parcel assemblage, a process which increases costs and time of development.” For Eliason, the bill could also create the potential for more diverse housing types between ‘missing middle’ housing and larger developments and make it easier to build larger units appropriate for families and larger households. “They also increase opportunities for small property owners, homeowners, small developers, community land trusts, and coops to meet today’s housing needs — groups typically unable to do large scale, well-capitalized projects.”

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