WA (and Bellingham) Housing Laws are Changing

Times change.

I know not everyone likes that change, and nostalgia for “the good ol’ days” is a point of passion for many.

That said, population growth in Bellingham and Whatcom County (and WA as a whole) has been substantial.

What worked then is not working now.

The supply and demand curve for housing — whether it is categorized as “affordable” or full retail — is skewed way, way to the demand side.

And therein lies the reasoning behind a number of new Bills that are a single signature away from law, designed to (eventually) create more housing units across the entire state of Washington.

I’ll cover a number of them over the span of future blog posts, but at the moment the most notable (IMO) is this one:

HB 1337

This law eases the path to ADU’s (accessory dwelling units) — a topic I covered in detail in a past blog post.

ADU’s are favored as an effective step in solving the housing crisis for a number of factors:

They increase density rather than sprawl, because they’re placed in an existing home’s backyard versus an entirely new lot.

They’re small and therefore more affordable to build and presumably to rent.

They’re also considered more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

They are commonly used to house grandparents, adult children, family members in need, friends going through life transition — all categories of people that can generally struggle to find housing.

Assuming Governor Inslee signs the bill, which he is fully expected to do, it does NOT take immediate effect.

Rather, it is required to be adopted by Bellingham within 6 months of the deadline for updating the City’s Comprehensive Plan.

That happens every 7 years.

The current deadline for that update is in the middle of 2025.

So by December-ish, 2025 Bellingham will have to comply with this law.

Here are some of the key points of HB 1337:

  • It limits the impact fees a City can charge for ADU construction to no more than 50% of the impact fees of the principal unit (the main house).
  • It removes the owner-occupancy requirement that currently prevents the owner from renting both units.
  • It requires cities to allow TWO ADU’s + the principal unit per lot.
  • It prevents cities from establishing a maximum gross floor area below 1000 square feet for the ADU.
  • It requires a city to allow existing structures like garages to be converted to ADU’s even if that current structure violates setback requirements.
  • And more.

You can read the entire bill here… and it’s not that long of a read.