Building Opportunity for Housing

A drawing showing various housing types and sizes, with those in the middle shown in dashed lines and unfilled, symbolizing the missing middle housing types.

Following on the heels of the successful Building Opportunity and Choices for All interim ordinance, the Building Opportunity for Housing project intends to develop lasting Comprehensive Plan and Municipal Code amendments that increase housing choice and diversity in the city. While development of single-family homes and apartments in the city has been robust the last decade, development of 2-, 3-, and 4-unit housing has been nearly nonexistent. Last year, for example, the City issued permits for only seven 4-unit developments and no 3-unit developments at all. Compare that to 380 houses and more than 800 apartment units—clearly there is a gap in housing development in the city. Trends in the wider region seem to indicate the same, with a consistent lack of “missing middle” housing development throughout Spokane County. Building Opportunity for Housing intends to increase choices for housing in Spokane as well as the number of residents with a safe place to live.

A Close Look at Housing Diversity and Choice in Spokane

The City’s Interim Ordinance represented an important but temporary response to the critical need for more housing in the city. However, as an emergency interim ordinance, it is set to expire in only one year (with some limited opportunity to extend). Because of this, the ordinance calls for a direct deep-dive into the Comprehensive Plan and Municipal Code to develop permanent policies and regulations that will take the place of the interim ordinance when it expires in 2023. The Building Opportunity for Housing project is exactly that effort.

Building Opportunity for Housing will explore both the Comprehensive Plan and the Municipal Code, analyzing gaps in our existing policies and codes and crafting remedies that will make it easier and more economical to develop missing-middle housing it the City of Spokane.

Project Timeline

A timeline outlining the entire process to update the Comprehensive Plan and Municipal Code for supportive housing policies and to allow for more housing types in residential zones.

Phase 1 – Comprehensive Plan Amendments

The Building Opportunity for Housing project will proceed in two major phases. First, we will analyze and consider amendments to the Spokane Comprehensive Plan. Chapter 3 of the Comprehensive Plan generally describes what can be built in the city and where its allowed. Accordingly, Chapter 3 will be the primary focus of this effort. Other chapters that might be considered as well include Chapter 6 (Housing) and Chapter 11 (Neighborhoods). At the conclusion of Phase 1, the City will consider a Comprehensive Plan Amendment ordinance that will be subject to hearings by the Spokane Plan Commission and the Spokane City Council.

Phase 2 – Municipal Code Amendments

The second phase will analyze and develop possible amendments to the Municipal Code. As this project is focused on housing, we will address possible changes to residential development standards, such as permitted housing types, building coverage, and minimum lot sizes in Spokane Municipal Code (SMC) Title 17C, specifically targeting the requirements in SMC 17C.110. Because the Municipal Code must be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, amendments to the Municipal Code developed during Phase 2 will be based off the amendments to the Comprehensive Plan made during the first phase of Building Opportunity for Housing. At the conclusion of Phase 2, a series of Municipal Code amendments will be considered during hearings with both the Spokane Plan Commission and the Spokane City Council.

Public Engagement Efforts

Throughout the entire project, during both phases, the City will undertake a series of outreach and engagement activities designed to capture the intent, vision and impressions of residents toward housing diversity and choice. The City will hold direct meetings with local groups, the development and finance community, and other stakeholders to cast the widest net possible for public and stakeholder input. More on this effort will be available soon.

How to Get Involved

News and Updates

Periodic updates will be issued by email to those on our contact list. We’re always happy to add you to our Housing contact list. Add your name to the list and we’ll be sure to send you news when it’s available.

Questions & Comments

Do you have a question about the project? Want to ask for more details or have a suggestion for possible solutions? Our team can be reached directly at developmentcode@spokanecity.org or by calling 509.625.6500.

Meet with Us

Groups or organizations who would like us to reach out directly for a presentation or meeting are encouraged to contact us at developmentcode@spokanecity.org and we’ll be in touch soon.

Join the Discussion

More opportunities to get involved with this important effort are coming soon. Check back here for updates.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the expected benefits of the Building Opportunity for Housing project?

Increased Flexibility for Desired Housing Types

Development regulations are important to ensure the quality of life and safety standards that lead to a thriving community. However, sometimes regulations can have unintended consequences. For instance, the current regulation for townhomes discourages their construction due to lot size requirements and unit limitations. Reducing the lot width and removing the unit cap can encourage the development of this housing type that gives first-time home buyers an opportunity to establish roots and connect with the community and is popular for young professionals and retirees alike.

Walkable Infill

Development infill allows residents to live near services, while also taking advantage of existing infrastructure like water, sewer and solid waste services. This creates walkable neighborhoods and responsible use of resources. Research also indicates that infill development is largely done by smaller companies, supporting small businesses along the way.

Continued Community Feedback

Feedback heard from the community during development of the Housing Action Plan and subsequent code amendments detailed on Shaping Spokane Housing have generally been positive towards promoting housing variety. The interim ordinance turned community feedback into immediate action, which is being refined and extended under the Building Opportunity for Housing project.

Transit Oriented Development

Residential opportunities near high-capacity STA transit routes can provide affordable and convenient housing options. Infill development helps make existing neighborhoods into ones where residents of all ages can walk, bike, or take transit to enjoy public spaces like parks or libraries, access daily services, or commute to work conveniently and reliably.

The City already adopted the Interim Ordinance—why this project now?

The interim zoning ordinance passed in July is, by nature, temporary. It expires within a year of adoption (or longer if extended). Interim ordinances are usually replaced by a permanent program that achieves the goals of the interim ordinance. In this case, BOCA was adopted temporarily to give enough time for the development of a permanent replacement to it. The permanent replacement is this project, Building Opportunity for Housing.

How will this project affect my neighborhood?

Building Opportunity for Housing intended to make it easier for low-scale development that complements the residential nature of our neighborhoods, while helping to foster more housing choices. If development occurs in your neighborhood, you may see more buildings that contain 2, 3, or 4 units. These units provide essential housing options to those that may not need or cannot afford a single-family home (i.e., retirees, new families, recent graduates). Currently available information suggests that some residents would like to move out of apartments or houses, but options for other types of housing are severely limited. When those residents have options for other housing, they can often vacate their current homes and make room for others that are seeking that type of housing.

What Building Opportunity for Housing does NOT seek is increased development of apartment buildings or large-scale residential development. When you imagine the impact of this project, don’t envision apartment buildings. Instead imagine small residential development that looks like the single-family homes already in your neighborhood, but with two or three units inside.

Will this give current homeowners incentive to demolish their homes and build additional units?

Due to the costs associated with demolition and construction, it is unlikely we will see homes in good condition being demolished. In addition to the cost of buying the property, demolishing a house can cost between $15,000 and $40,000 depending on the property, and that is before accounting for the cost of designing and physically constructing the new building. New housing developed after this project is complete is expected to occur largely on vacant lots, underutilized lots that have additional land, and dilapidated properties.

What can these new housing options look like?

That is one of the questions we hope to answer during this process. Because the Building Opportunity for Housing project is a deeper look into policy and standards for housing, the potential is there to refine our development standards and to make the kind of development the community wants easier to design and build. If you have some good ideas as to what kind of 2-, 3-, and 4-unit development you would like to see, you should join the conversation.

How do I learn about requirements to develop my property?

If you are interested in developing your property before this work is done, please contact the Development Services Center (DSC) to schedule a Pre-Development Conference. This is an optional meeting between a project applicant and City departments and other governmental agencies involved in the plan review process. These meetings help applicants determine project feasibility and provide an overview of requirements to prepare for the application submittal process. Our Development Services Center (DSC) is on hand to help you understand the City’s development standards and what you’re allowed to do. When this project is complete and new/amended standards are adopted, the DSC will still be there to help you understand the changes and to process permits if you decide to move ahead.

Background

Washington's Growth Management Act (GMA) (Chapter 36.70A RCW) calls for promoting a variety of residential housing types and densities, preserving existing housing stock, and encouraging housing that is affordable to all income levels. To implement these policies, cities and counties planning under the GMA must include a housing element in their comprehensive plans, or a community's roadmap for growth. And recent changes to State law (House Bill 1923) aim to increase residential capacity in cities across the state.

The City of Spokane Comprehensive Plan reflects our community's values to support economic opportunity for all citizens with affordable housing and attractive neighborhoods. The document provides a vision of housing that is safe, clean, healthy and attainable for all residents.

Responding to the new legislation, in July 2021, the City adopted its Housing Action Plan (HAP) to focus on implementation of housing policies and goals. The HAP identifies actions that the city can pursue to encourage more housing options and create more homes for more people. The Housing Action Plan built upon past initiatives and community discussions around infill development, housing quality and affordable housing funding. The HAP yielded a coordinated set of strategies, based on community priorities, that supports more people being able to find a home that meets their needs with access to opportunities, services and amenities.

Historically, Spokane has offered a mix of housing options—from mansion apartments in the historic Browne's Addition and post-War era neighborhoods like Chief Garry Park to suburban developments like Indian Trail. However, as the city has grown, the diversity and supply of housing has not been able to meet the needs of all income levels. How do we know? As part of the Spokane Housing Action Plan (HAP), the City completed a Housing Needs Assessment (PDF 8.1 MB) to determine the types of housing residents need more of, as well as the displacement risk of various Census tracts throughout the city.

During the process for the Housing Action Plan, City Council advocated for more housing types in residential zones to address the housing supply issue, which was ultimately included in Council’s Implementation Plan as Strategy II.1. Due to the nature of the City’s residential land use categories and zoning requirements, increasing the housing supply has made slow progress and been compounded by a low supply of both homes for sale and units for rents, while Washington state has seen a demographic shift as people move to areas seeking lower costs or because of remote work. The GMA (RCW 36.70A.390) outlines the availability of an interim zoning ordinance to enact quick action in response to an immediate and urgent need. In response to the rapid increase in rents and home prices, the City proposed an interim zoning ordinance to take swift action to permit and encourage the construction of more housing types in residential zones.


Project Updates

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Contact Information

City of Spokane
Department of Planning Services
808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.
Spokane, WA 99201
509.625.6500
developmentcode@spokanecity.org

Kevin Freibott
Associate Planner
509.625.6184
kfreibott@spokanecity.org

Amanda Beck, AICP
Assistant Planner II
509.625.6414
abeck@spokanecity.org

KayCee Downey, AICP
Assistant Planner II
509.625.6194
kdowney@spokanecity.org

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