State law means more ‘middle housing’ is coming to Renton

City of Renton hosted a virtual open house explaining HB 1110 and middle housing.

House Bill 1110 was passed last year by the Washington Legislature to allow more “middle housing,” which describes housing such as duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, fiveplexes, sixplexes, courtyard apartments, cottage housing and townhomes.

Intended to encourage more development of middle housing, the bill requires cities to allow a broader range of housing in areas with mostly detached single-family homes.

The City of Renton hosted a community education opportunity for HB 1110 and its subsequent middle housing ordinance to be in compliance with the bill. This community education was done through a virtual open house on June 1, led by planners from the city as well as MAKER Architecture.

According to Renton associate planner Angelea Weihs, by 2024, Washington will need more than one million additional units to accommodate projected population growth.

“To unlock opportunity for Washingtonians, it is necessary to lift bans on the development of modest home choices in cities near job centers, transit, and amenity-rich neighborhoods,” Weihs said of one of the bill’s sections.“Homes developed at higher densities and gentle density housing types are more affordable by design for Washington residents both in their construction and reduced household energy and transportation costs.”

According to associate planner and urban designer Markus Johnson from MAKER, this bill essentially makes it so that in Renton, with HB1110, up to six middle housing-type homes can be built on a lot where previous zoning only allowed one detached single-family home on a lot.

“That’s the baseline understanding of that. The second half of what needs to be met by the city is that they do need to allow six of nine middle housing types defined in the bill. So, it’s four units per lot, but you also then have to allow six middle housing types,” Johnson said.

Additionally, HB 1110 states that six units per lot are permissible if two of those units are affordable, or six units are permissible if they are within a half-mile of a major transit stop. Johnson said those two affordable units are based as affordable if it’s a subsidized unit sold at 80 percent of market value, and if it’s a rental unit, the unit must be affordable for people who earn 60 percent of the area median income, or the rent must be 60 percent of the market rate value.

Renton falls under Tier 1 of unit requirements, where up to six units are allowed if the city has more than 75,000 residents. Tier 2 allows up to four units in cities with between 25,000 to 75,000 residents. Tier 3 cities with under 25,000 residents can have up to two units on a lot.

Senior associate planner and urban designer Rachel Miller from MAKER clarified that developers are not required to create more than one unit or any of the middle-housing options. HB 1110 just increases the limit of housing units allowed on a single lot, Miller said.

Development regulations to comply with HB 1110 must pass by June 30, 2025. Cities that have not done so will need to adhere to state-developed ordinances rather than approved regulations at the municipal level that comply with the Legislature.

Johnson said middle housing can be more affordable per unit because multiple units share the land cost. He said this in turn creates more opportunities for homeownership because middle housing will cost less than a traditional home.

“You might see a single-family home in Seattle that sells for $1.4 million, but if you were to split that into four, each unit might be selling for, I don’t know, $800,000. That’s still really expensive, but $800,000 is still more affordable than the $1.4 million, and you’re selling four separate households instead of just one household on that lot,” Johnson said.

According to Johnson, more middle housing also increases equity.

“Equity, as I mentioned before, this creates a variety of housing options, homeownership opportunities, and this is all to elevate equity and kind of provide lower-income households, multi-generational families, and just vulnerable populations that maybe have not had access to certain neighborhoods to be able to access those neighborhoods and live in them, and have access to the amenities that those neighborhoods are offering,” Johnson said.