Seattle scraps ‘single-family zoning’ label over racism fears

“Single-family zoning” is no more in Seattle following a city council vote Monday.

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The bill, sponsored by Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Dan Strauss, will replace the city’s single-family zoning moniker with “neighborhood residential zoning,” according to MyNorthwest. While it won’t change the actual makeup of Seattle’s density, it does away with a term regarded by critics as rooted in discriminatory red-lining policies.

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“The legislation passed today brings us one step closer to a more inclusive Seattle,” Mosqueda said in a news release following the bill’s passage. “Today, we recognize neighborhoods across our city are home to diverse housing built before increasingly restrictive zoning went into place.”

The legislation is in response to the Seattle Planning Commission’s repeated request every year since 2018 to change the name of single-family only to “Neighborhood Residential,” as laid out in their Neighborhoods for All report.

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Despite extensive public outreach, opponents have expressed concerns that this will be a harbinger to more substantive zoning legislation in the future.

A "For Sale" sign is posted outside a residential home in the Queen Anne neighborhood near the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington, U.S. May 14, 2021.   REUTERS/Karen Ducey

A “For Sale” sign is posted outside a residential home in the Queen Anne neighborhood near the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington, U.S. May 14, 2021.   REUTERS/Karen Ducey
(REUTERS/Karen Ducey)

The measure will take effect on Nov. 13.

Experts in a Zillow Home Price Expectations Survey previously said relaxing zoning rules would be the most effective way to increase supply in a housing market currently near historic inventory lows.

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When asked what could be done to increase housing supply, relaxing zoning rules was the runaway top choice. Previous Zillow research has found even a modest amount of upzoning in large metro areas could add 3.3 million homes to the U.S. housing stock, creating room for more than half of the missing households since the Great Recession – a major reason for today’s frenzied housing demand. 

A majority (57%) of homeowners Zillow previously surveyed believe they and others should be able to add additional housing on their property, and 30% said they would be willing to invest money to create housing on their own property, if allowed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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