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Seattle passes ‘progressive’ backyard apartment legislation — Now it needs to build them


30 days after Mayor Jenny Durkan signs it, new legislation passed Monday by the City Council will give Seattle a start at catching up after years of delays on making it easier to build backyard apartment units on single family home properties across the city.

“The vote caps an epic process during which obstructionists abused state environmental laws to drag things out for four years, as pro-housing affordability forces built up steam and finally won out over the objections of a tiny minority of anti-housing activists,” pro-growth and affordability nonprofit Sightline wrote on the passage, calling the new rules “the most progressive ADU policy in the US.”In part, the new “accessory dwelling unit” regulations are being applauded simply because of the volume of new housing territory they seem to open up — the new rules will allow two ADUs on a given property.

The most progressive element in “the most progressive ADU policy in the US” won’t be in place for another six months, however. That’s when another key component approved Monday will take effect. To encourage ADU development, the legislation limits the allowed size of new houses in Seattle but ADUs won’t count against the cap. That provision gives developers the option to maximize the value of a property by adding in-law style apartment or separate backyard cottages.

CHS reported here on other aspects of the legislation and the long, hard fought battle against anti-growth efforts in the city to see it through.

Even with its progressive framework, the new ADU rules may not spark a building boom of new, small-scale, hopefully affordable backyard units and basement apartments. Permitting and utility work is still prohibitively slow and expensive in the city.

Council member Kshama Sawant says there should be public financing for low income people who want to add the units to their homes.

“We’ve been listening to community and there remain considerable obstacles to speeding the development of backyard cottages and in-law apartments,” Mayor Durkan said in her statement on the council’s approval of the legislation. “The permitting process is too complex, takes too long, and there are financial barriers keeping many low and middle-income homeowners from bringing these housing solutions online and into their neighborhoods.”

“If we’re serious about providing more housing choices across the city, it’s incredibly important that we take this opportunity to get this right.”

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10 thoughts on “Seattle passes ‘progressive’ backyard apartment legislation — Now it needs to build them

  1. The price of building anything in Seattle is the bigger limit. $250-300k to build a DADU.

    I do worry that 12 people on lot, no parking, no owner, 3 units could have unintended consequences in some areas.

    Boom time over in the udistrict where you can suddenly cram in another 4 people in your rental frat house or Airbnb complex…

    • DADU construction costs (new) estimated at $315 to $500 per square foot. None of them new buildings gonna’ be for low income. Now, my brothers house, where we are gonna’ make his garage into a DADU? if the City will finance at easy terms then SURE no problem let’s make it lo income. Numbers gotta’ work out one way or the other. Very few homeowners, though there are some, are as charitable as Mike O’Brien seems to think.

  2. I personally agree that these will wind up on Airbnb and other sites. In spite of the notion that more housing for locals will be built thus stabilizing the crazy rents. Why would you rent to locals at a much lower rate? And the lack of an owner occupant? HUGE win for the vacation rental business!

    • There are already restrictions on AirBnB’s in Seattle.

      You can only operate 2 AirBnB’s in Seattle, and one must be your primary residence. So, if you live in a house with 2 ADU’s, you can only AirBnB one of the ADU’s. In your main house, you can rent out an extra room or something (if you live there).

      It’s not possible to AirBnB the second ADU that this law allows.

  3. Current housing is ending up on AirBNB too, so I think we have to regulate hotel-not-a-hotels anyway.

    Maybe we’ll get cottages built by AirBNB speculators and then they’ll become housing for locals. That would be nice.

  4. This seems like a back-door maneuver to allow triplexes in quiet, single-family neighborhoods. Because of the elimination of the owner-occupied requirement, and also the reality that not many middle-class homeowners can afford to redevelop their property, most of these new units will be built by developers/investors/speculators, so they will be market rate and do nothing for affordability. With 12 unrelated people occupying these properties, and no parking requirement, there will be decreased parking availability in some areas.

    Thanks, lame-duck councilmember Mike O’Brien, for pushing a plan which will negatively impact Seattle neighborhoods for years to come!

    • Owning a house doesn’t entitle you to any street parking. Buy a house with a garage, rent one or make a bet on whether you will be able to park on the street.

      It will change neighborhoods, more people will live there, more small businesses will be able to survive, schools will be more diverse.

      If you are worried about “not many middle-class homeowners can afford to redevelop their property” you sure must be incredibly worried about middle class families not being able to live in those quiet, charming neighborhoods.

    • hey bob can’t we all, just this once, send out a nice little bouqet of flowers for Mike O’Brien? I am anxiously awaiting the publication of the regulations that enact the new law. I can hear the bulldozers in my dreams, my happy dreams!!