Anna Fahey, senior director, communications and campaigns, [email protected]


OLYMPIA—Washington state soon will have the opportunity to become a national leader in the growing movement to end exclusionary zoning, pervasive local laws that ban mid-sized home types like duplexes, fourplexes, and townhouses.

A new bill, prioritized by Governor Jay Inslee and sponsored by Senator Mona Das and Representative Jessica Bateman, would set state-level standards for cities to lift those bans and restore “middle housing” in communities throughout the state.

An urgent response to housing demands

Washington is facing a severe housing shortage that’s driving the economic displacement and outsized rent burden facing Washingtonians. Across the state, local bans on a range of housing types limit communities to the most expensive housing: stand-alone houses on large lots, which in turn encourages construction of large “McMansions” rather than smaller, naturally-affordable home types.

This January, the Washington state legislature will have a chance to restore zoning rules that allow a range of home types in job centers. Neighboring Oregon and California have already passed similar legislation.

Community leaders and elected officials support more housing choices

  • When asked her reasons for championing this bill at this time, Rep. Jessica Bateman responded: “Housing costs are rising faster than wages, forcing families to spend half or more of their income just to keep a place to live. This unsustainable burden means more people are at risk of losing their home. This is especially true for seniors, people with disabilities, and low-wage workers. Families in large cities and rural communities alike are suffering because of this crisis. It’s time for Washington to re-legalize recognizable, affordable housing options like duplexes, triplexes and quads.”
  • Brett D’Antonio, CEO, Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King & Kittitas Counties, noted, “Housing density isn’t just about rentals. Density flexibility enables Habitat and other home builders to provide affordable for-sale units such as duplexes and triplexes. Thanks to the density incentives proposed in this bill, we won’t just build more homes; we will be able to build more homeowners.”
  • “Most of our problems in Washington state come down to housing justice: where homes are allowed to be—or aren’t—how many we have—or don’t—and how much they cost,” added Andrew “Ace” Grant-Houston, who was among the invited expert panelists at Sightline’s recent policy briefing, “This bill is a major step towards housing justice and ensuring every person here has a place to call home.”
  • “This long-awaited action on zoning reform reflects calls from across the community seeking leadership from local governments and the state to stabilize prices by addressing the shortage,” said Cliff Cawthon, pro-housing coalition strategy manager at Sightline Institute. “In the upcoming legislative session, Sightline will be working with a broad coalition of voices from across the state to advocate for this bill and end exclusionary zoning at the heart of the housing crisis.”

Governor Inslee’s priority bill announcement is welcome news for those who have been working through policy change to address the housing shortage as a foundational step to stabilizing prices. Dan Bertolet, Sightline’s senior researcher for housing and urbanism, is available for comment and analysis.

See also: 18 reasons why Washington should follow in the footsteps of Oregon and California by lifting exclusionary zoning laws.

Sightline housing policy researchers available for comment, analysis, and background

Please contact Anna Fahey, to be connected with our policy experts: [email protected]

Dan Bertolet, senior researcher, leads Sightline’s housing and urbanism research program and has written extensively about exclusionary zoning and the affordability and sustainability benefits of added density. Prior to joining Sightline, he spent ten years in urban planning. Find his latest research here.

Clifford “Cliff” Cawthon, pro-housing coalition strategy manager, has been an educator, organizer, and freelance journalist. His political work before Sightline focused on advocating for tenants’ rights and affordable housing for displaced communities, as well as worker’s’ rights and other issues relating to racial and economic justice. Learn more about him here.


Sightline Institute is a think tank providing leading original analysis of energy, economic, and environmental policy in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

December 15, 2021