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Bill Expanding ADU Construction in Washington Makes its Way to Senate Rules Committee

Brett Davis | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – Legislation expanding the construction of accessory dwelling units in Washington state has passed out of the Senate Committee on Local Government, Land Use & Tribal Affairs.

An accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, is a legal and regulatory term for a secondary house or apartment that shares the building lot of a larger primary home. They are also known as backyard cottages or mother-in-law units.

Senate Bill 5235, which passed out of committee on Thursday morning, would lift certain local restrictions on ADUs, with the goal of increasing the number of more-affordable homes available. The legislation requires comprehensive plans under the Growth Management Act – a state law requiring planning for growth and development in Washington – allow for ADUs within an urban growth area.

The hope is this will ease the shortage of homes that is sending rents and prices upward in communities all across the state.

“Washington is in an affordable housing crisis,” said Sen. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, in a news release. “We need to expand our housing supply, and this is a way to do it that’s affordable, environmentally friendly, and preserves the character of our communities.”

There’s no down side, according to her.

“These ADUs are a win-win – they’re an option for someone looking for an affordable place to live, and they’re great for homeowners who want to make some extra money off unused space on their property or provide a home for an aging family member or a young family member looking to start out on their own,” Shewmake explained.

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes, agreed.

“As we’re working to address the shortage of housing options for our neighbors, it’s important that we look for innovative solutions wherever they may be,” she said. “By expanding ADU construction, we can support our neighbors in need of affordable housing, make use of otherwise underutilized space, and provide homeowners with new streams of income. This collaborative approach is a huge step towards addressing housing issues, and I look forward to continued work with our colleagues this session.”

Housing and homelessness are major issues for the Legislature during the current 105-day session.

More than 25,000 people are living on the street or in emergency and transitional housing across the state, an 11% increase from 2020, according to the Washington State Department of Commerce.

Commerce says the state needs to construct one million new homes by 2044 to meet demand, with half that is subsidized housing that is affordable to low-income residents.

In December, Gov. Jay Inslee proposed a $70.4 billion 2023-25 operating budget emphasizing housing and homelessness.

SB 5235 moves on to the Senate Rules Committee. From there, it can be pulled to the floor for a vote by the full Senate.