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Meet Me in the Middle: The New Middle Housing Bill Explained



2023 was a landmark session for housing legislation in Washington, responding to an “unprecedented housing crisis” brought on by the shortage in housing supply and the dearth of affordable housing options. Arguably one of the most significant bills passed in the 2023 session was what is commonly known as the Middle Housing Bill, which went into effect on July 23, 2023. Importantly, however, local governments are not required to update their zoning codes to be in compliance until six months after their comprehensive plan update, or by other deadlines specified in the law.

“Middle housing” are those housing types that are in between single-family housing and midrise multifamily complexes¹ as illustrated by the graphic below:

Picture source here.

Cities designated as Growth Management Act (GMA) planning cities, or cities that choose to plan under the GMA, must allow for a certain density of middle housing depending on proximity to a major transit stop and affordable housing options. Note that this means the Middle Housing Bill does not apply to unincorporated areas such as counties. The Washington State Department of Commerce outlines the requirements for cities depending on their size in the table below:


Table source here.

Cities must allow six of the nine types of middle housing in their zoning code:

  • Duplexes
  • Triplexes
  • Fourplexes
  • Fiveplexes
  • Sixplexes
  • Townhouses
  • Stacked flats
  • Courtyard apartments
  • Cottage housing

The Middle Housing Bill also limits parking mandates parking mandates and lifts them entirely for lots within a half-mile of a major transit stop. The hope here is to reduce the cost of homes and allow for more efficient lot design.

There are very few exceptions to the requirements in the Middle Housing Bill, such as if critical areas are present on the subject site. It will also be important for developers to keep in mind that declarations for housing developments cannot prohibit the construction, development, or use of additional housing units.

Many hold the view that more middle housing means more affordable home choices near jobs, schools, and transit, and more options for first-time homebuyers, and as providing other benefits, including less sprawl into farmland and forests, more walkable communities, reduced home energy use, lower municipal infrastructure costs, jobs for small, local builders, and increased local tax revenue.³ As designed, the Middle Housing Bill is expected to have impacts on the housing landscape in cities and for communities in Washington moving forward.

¹The bill defines it as “buildings that are compatible in scale, form, and character with single-family houses and contain two or more attached, stacked, or clustered homes including duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, fiveplexes, sixplexes, townhouses, stacked flats, courtyard apartments, and cottage housing.”

²A “major transit stop” is a stop on a commuter rail, light rail, or rapid transit bus system. “Affordable housing” is residential housing whose monthly costs, including utilities other than telephone, do not exceed 30% of the monthly income of a household whose income is either 60% of the area median income for rental housing or 80% of the area median income for owner-occupied housing.

³See e.g., here

This article is provided for informational purposes only—it does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the firm and the reader. Readers should consult legal counsel before taking action relating to the subject matter of this article.

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