In recent years, a new legislative trend has emerged. States have been choosing to revisit longstanding zoning rules in order to alleviate housing shortages. In 2019, Oregon was the first to introduce a comprehensive single-family zoning revision package, which effectively ended single-family zoning. Since then, statehouses, city halls, and county offices across the country have been debating similar comprehensive actions to quickly increase housing stock, particularly for traditionally middle-class households. The term for this kind of housing is “missing-middle housing,” although some of the commentary on the issue uses “middle housing.”

While CAI’s Government and Public Affairs Department is releasing a more comprehensive background of this ongoing policy debate later this year, it should be noted that traditionally middle-class households are being priced out of housing markets across the country, and that this is causing a variety of negative effects at both state and local levels. State governments are attempting to address this trend through actions which push local-level authorities to approve more new construction and lift existing limits imposed by decades-old zoning decisions.

CAI is working with partners and affiliates across the country to advocate for legislation that will maintain authority for existing associations, reallocate assessments in an equitable manner, and create a fair cost-sharing system for when infrastructure needs to be upgraded to support the addition of new units on a previously single-family lot.

Below are a few of the bills that have been introduced across the country this legislative session, which CAI is watching:

Hawaii: This week, members of the Hawaii State House introduced HB 672 Relating to Housing Capacity. This bill requires each county to adopt reasonable standards to allow the construction of up to four dwelling units on urban state land use districts zoned for residential use where a single-family dwelling unit is already permitted. Counties are additionally encouraged to look through their own zoning codes to identify areas of reform, with the goal of eliminating red tape for housing development.

Massachusetts: Lawmakers introduced HD 3252/SD 2006 An Act to promote Yes in My Back Yard. This is a comprehensive, single-family zoning revision, crafted with the goal of creating 427,000 new housing units across the Commonwealth by 2040, including 85,400 housing units for households earning less than 80% of the area’s median income. This bill instructs municipalities to either adopt the bill’s language on accessory dwelling units, or adopt their own, less restrictive, measures. This language includes a prohibition on municipalities imposing minimum lot sizes, maximum height standards less than 16 feet, setback restrictions, and parking requirements. The bill instructs municipalities to convert vacant commercial structures into mixed-use developments, and instructs the Department of Housing and Community Development to create guidelines for single-family zoning revisions.

New Hampshire: Members of the New Hampshire State House introduced HB 44 An Act relative to permissible residential units in a residential zone. This bill would instruct local legislative bodies to approve the construction of up to four units on traditionally single-family lots, provided these lots are served by municipal water and sewer, and are located in unincorporated towns or unorganized places.

Washington State: Members of the Washington State Legislature introduced -Increasing middle housing in areas traditionally dedicated to single-family detached housing. Passage of this bill is a priority for Governor Jay Inslee. This bill would direct cities with a population of 6,000 or more within a metro area with a population of 200,000 or more to implement zoning changes, which would allow for the development of denser housing on traditionally single-family lots. There is also a focus on increasing density around transit stations, and language in this bill which prohibits associations created after the effective date of the bill from restricting the construction of denser housing on single-family lots. Additionally, Washington State saw the introduction of SB 5466 An Act Relating to promoting transit-oriented development, which instructs localities to increase housing density in areas within 1/8 of a mile of a transit station to allow for multi-family construction. It also instructs localities to implement different levels of density within ¾ of a mile of transit stations, with a formula based on the allowable height of buildings in the jurisdiction. Finally, this bill would allow jurisdictions to approve projects without needing to meet any on-site parking requirements.

For guidance on issues related to single-family zoning revisions (such as the allowance of new accessory dwelling units), as well as other topics of interest, check out CAI’s full list of public policies.

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