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Proposed legislation would make tiny-home zoning easier

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Tiny houses are a trendy new housing option that often are 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 (R-Puyallup) is the sponsor of three bills to overcome obstacles to tiny house developments.

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

The Senate Local Government Committee heard public testimony Tuesday on Senate Bill 5384, which 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,” Zeiger said.

Todd McKellips, executive director at the Washington Tiny HouseAssociation, 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 firsthand in changing zoning requirements to allow for 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 like grocery stores and restaurants also are factors that developers have to consider, he added.

The target market for homes like this varies based on location. In Soap Lake, it is 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 4 Housing testified Wednesday 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,” Goodman said. “Just because a housing type doesn’t appeal to everybody doesn’t make it an illegitimate choice for those that want that option.”