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'Cottage housing' proposal to be considered by Shoreline City Council

Cottage housing developments allow for small homes arranged in a common interior courtyard.

SHORELINE, Wash — To accommodate a growing population in Washington, officials estimate the state will need more than one million new housing units by 2044. That’s why the governor signed a bill for more “middle housing" affordable for people from all walks of life.

Now cities like Shoreline are grappling with how to provide for that so-called “missing middle."

The Shoreline City Council continued discussions at their regular board meeting Monday about whether to use several thousand in state grant funding to make way for something called cottage housing.

Shoreline city officials said most households in the city -  61% - have only one or two people living in them. By allowing for cottage housing complexes, Mayor Keith Scully and the city council are trying to figure out how to maximize their use of land.

"It’s more affordable because it’s smaller," Scully said. "Where you might have one larger single-family house, you could maybe have three small houses."

Cottage housing is when you portion a single-family lot into a multi-family lot and build small homes with a focus on vertical space. Houses are small, generally 700-1,200 square feet, but a cottage is not to be mistaken for a tiny home, said Scully.

"It has a bathroom," Scully said. "It has a kitchen. It has a bedroom. It has a living room."

Why cottage housing now? Scully said permitting them would result in affordable options for first-time homeowners or retirees.

"Folks who wanna live in a two-or three-bedroom, 900 square foot house that’s a lot smaller than most of us are used to, and I can tell ya, I've got four kids, it wouldn’t work for me," Scully said. "But in 20 years, when I've retired and my kids are all out on their own, that might sound pretty appealing to me."

In the past, critics - often neighboring homeowners - called it a sneaky way of injecting multifamily density into areas with single-family zoning. But after the passage of House Bill 1110 this year in Washington, cities like Shoreline are required to create more density for middle housing.

But the practicality of cottage housing came into question by one Shoreline council member recently.

"There’s very little land that’s just open, anymore,” said Doris Fujioka McConnell, Shoreline councilmember.

One shoreline local shared his opposition to cottage housing with KING 5, and said he worries it’d be a waste of taxpayer dollars because "the numbers do not work for a builder to make a profit."

Scott Becker, a longtime developer in the area with Noble Built, agrees that cottage housing can be risky for developers, but he believes it's worth it.

"They’re expensive to build, but they really meet a need," Becker said.

Becker built a cottage housing development in Shoreline back when it was allowed about 19 years ago.

He said he was able to sell all of his cottages within weeks.

"I think that they can make a profit," Becker said. "I had people screaming at me when we opened our project, which sold out in, like, two weeks.”

Meantime, Scully said he would consider it "progress" if his other housing efforts are assisted by even five or six new cottage housing lots over the next five years.

"It’s not the magic bullet for housing solutions," Scully said. 

Currently, city officials said there are 56 cottage homes across seven developments in Shoreline. He said this would just be "part of the puzzle" of addressing the affordable housing crisis.

Scully said he expects his council will vote on city code changes in about three weeks.

According to city officials, Shoreline has an overall housing shortage that is part of a regional lack of supply, which has created upward pressure on prices, particularly in for-sale units.

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