Proposed legislation would make tiny-home zoning easier

Tiny houses are a trendy new housing option that is often considered affordable — however, zoning requirements and other laws make them difficult to legally place.

A tiny house is usually between 100 and 400 square feet but can range up to 1,000 square feet. Sen. Hans Zeiger, 25th District Republican from Puyallup, is the prime sponsor of three bills to overcome obstacles to tiny house developments.

The Senate Housing Stability and Affordability Committee heard public testimony on Feb. 6 on two of Zeiger’s bills. SB 5382 deals with tiny houses as detached accessory units. The first — SB 5383 — outlines building requirements for a tiny home, in effect creating a legal framework for tiny homes that can be specified at the local level.

The Senate Local Government Committee heard public testimony Feb. 5 on SB 5384 that would create a process to authorize the creation of tiny house communities outside of urban growth areas or areas of intense rural development when there is a shortage of affordable housing.

“We have an affordable housing crisis, and let’s find some creative ways to address that,” said Zeiger.

Todd McKellips Executive Director at the Washington Tiny House Association, testified in support of the bill, saying it would give counties permission to develop their own plans for tiny house developments.

“The builders believe that this is a huge solution that has not been looked at,” McKellips said.

Tiny home zoning requirements can be difficult to navigate, said Soap Lake Mayor Raymond Gravelle, who experienced that first hand in changing zoning requirements to allow cottage homes. Cottage homes are slightly larger than the average tiny home, ranging from 400 to 1,000 square feet, but still have to deal with rural density zoning requirements.

“It took about a year to get all of the zoning correct,” Gravelle said.

“Since passing it, we haven’t had anyone take advantage of the higher density construction opportunity but we have several developers that are looking hard at developing some parcels in Soap Lake.”

Gravelle, a real estate agent, hopes to pursue a tiny home development himself. The median home value in Grant County is $250,000 and a tiny home costs around $130,000 to $160,000, which is a new price point, he said.

“Getting community buy-in is important because it does allow for higher density housing. Some people object to that in rural communities,” Gravelle said.

Things like access to broadband and amenities such as grocery stores and restaurants are also factors that developers have to consider, he said.

The target market for homes like this varies based on location. In Soap Lake, that market includes people looking to buy a second home, downsize or retire, millennials who work remotely and want a low cost of living or investment properties to be used as rentals or Airbnbs, Gravelle said.

Ethan Goodman, executive director at Tech for Housing, testified Feb. 6 in support of the bills.

“Tiny houses are, I have to recognize, a fairly niche housing type, but I think they still deserve our support,” said Goodman.

”Just because a housing type doesn’t appeal to everybody doesn’t make it an illegitimate choice for those that want that option.”

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