Wealthy Washington Neighborhoods Could Remain Untouched by Zoning Reforms

Neighborhoods with preexisting internal contracts are exempted from new legislation requiring all Washington cities to permit duplexes and other ‘missing middle housing.’

2 minute read

April 26, 2023, 11:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Earlier this year, the Washington state legislature passed legislation aimed at eliminating single-family zoning and creating more diverse and abundant housing options in the state. However, as David Gutman and Daniel Beekman report in The Seattle Times, “homeowner associations and other ‘common interest communities’ that have internal contracts or documents governing their zoning rules” are exempt from the new law, effectively allowing them to remain exclusively zoned for single-family homes.

“Because homeowner associations and common interest communities have preexisting, legally binding contracts regarding their zoning rules, the Legislature can’t change those, said Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, the bill’s lead sponsor,” explaining the exemption. “The bill does explicitly bar homeowner associations from making new contracts or agreements to try to prohibit duplexes and other kinds of middle housing. But it only applies to future agreements, those enacted after the law becomes effective.”

According to University of Washington law professor Hugh Spitzer, “people can put restrictive covenants on their properties and you can’t have a law that comes in and wipes that out,” except in the event that the law is related to safety, such as the requirement to add a fire escape. Yet state law does, as Gutman and Beekman point out, govern some aspects of homeowner association rules, including legislation that bans HOAs from prohibiting certain flags, political signs, and solar panels.

The authors remind readers of the sordid history of HOAs. “In Seattle, and across the country, many homeowner associations were created a century ago for the express purpose of excluding racial and religious minorities.” The article continues, “These are the same communities that today won’t be touched by middle housing, which supporters of HB 1110 say can diversify neighborhoods by providing options at different price points.”

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