How backyard cottages could open up Seattle’s housing market

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Seattle City Council took a step closer toward legislation that would make “accessory dwelling units” easier to build, helping to offset mortgage costs for Seattle homeowners.

This comes hot on the heels of a study released by the City Council, evaluating “the potential environmental impacts of proposes changes to the City’s Land Use Code intended to remove barriers to the creation of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in single-family zones.”

In layman’s terms, the city is looking to simplify and streamline the process for homeowners to build ADUs on their properties, known colloquially as backyard cottages or in-law units.

Homeowners would then be able to rent these units out, providing an additional source of income that could then be put toward anything from day-to-day living to mortgage payments. Alternatively, it also opens up more housing options for renters.

“We believe that backyard cottages will allow homeowners to increase the number and variety of housing choices in single-family zones,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien in a press release announcing the release of the study.

Imagine buying a home with a mortgage outside of your price range, but being able to balance that out — or even completely cover the mortgage cost — by collecting rent from a backyard cottage. Opening up zoning requirements to make that easier is the goal for the City Council, touting it a small, creative fix to help offset Seattle’s ballooning housing market.

A planned bill would “remove some barriers to building ADUs, including changes to off-street parking rules, owner-occupancy requirements, and design standards.” The Seattle Times estimates that this would add approximately 2,500 ADUs in the next 10 years, and prevent 500 houses from being torn down to build “McMansions.”

Up until recently though, the City of Seattle has been charging an arm and a leg in zoning fees for anyone trying to build an ADU on their property.

“Most of the municipalities in the Pacific Northwest are in the fee-generating business,” noted KIRO Radio’s Ron Upshaw. “What this entire thing has been structured for up until this point is for them to collect fees.”

Hopefully, homeowners are about to see some relief once the City Council finally settles on new legislation.

Between this, and a promising report from Northwest Multiple Listing Service (MLS), it seems as though the local housing market could finally be softening for new buyers on a budget.

“In the South Sound the market has shifted into neutral and is idling at the moment,” Dick Beeson of RE/MAX Professionals said in the Northwest MLS report. He went on to point out how housing availability improved in Pierce and Thurston counties, “but nowhere near what King County has experienced.”

“Buyers are taking deep breaths as they survey this new territory,” said Beeson, claiming that potential buyers will soon see more homes available for sale for the first time in three years.

If homeowners are made able to both offset their own costs and provide additional housing to renters, that can only mean good things for anyone looking to buy in Seattle in the near future.

~My Northwest