The new law specifies numbers of units, not housing types, meaning developers could build a wide variety of housing including townhomes, small apartment complexes, cottage housing with multiple small single-unit homes clustered on a single lot, and stacked flats where a multi-unit apartment or condo building has just one unit per floor.
But, there’s broad agreement that developers are likely to continue building four- to six-unit townhomes more than experimenting with other housing types. Developers and financiers are already comfortable with townhome construction. There’s less risk for developers to build and immediately sell than there is renting apartments and there’s already a market of interested homebuyers shopping for townhomes. All of that adds up to a development sector more likely to scale up to build more townhomes than adapt to build the alternative housing types allowed under missing middle zoning.
Those are all the same reasons that developers build townhomes instead of small apartment buildings right now in Seattle’s low-rise zones where both are legal. If the city is interested in getting more small apartments or stacked flats, Hutchins said it will need to provide incentives in the building code to make those housing types easier to finance and build.
But Dylan Sluder, government affairs manager at the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, said even an influx of new townhomes would improve the health of the local housing market.
“As folks climb the ladder of homeownership they’ll move up from apartments to new townhomes, which opens up new opportunities for other people,” he said. “It’s addressing the supply issues at the most basic level of economics here. … This legislation will hopefully provide some entry level products for first time home buyers, workforce housing, help people buy housing that fits their lifestyle and provides amenities they want.”