More Diverse Housing Please

By Janae Huber, Olympians for People-Oriented Places

With pressures from our larger neighbors–looking at you King County–and the ability for more people to work from home and live farther from their job–thanks technology–Olympia is welcoming new neighbors and the vibrancy they bring.

Unfortunately, the approximately 1,000 new people arriving each year put pressure on our housing market. It may seem like we are building a lot of housing, but it is still not enough for Olympia’s growth. Vacancy rates are currently lower than 5%, which means that purchase and rental prices are rising rapidly. 

To keep pace with the growth of new residents and limit displacement of current residents, we must build more housing. And, to protect our environment, housing must be channeled into already-developed areas. To that end, the Olympia City Council asked the Planning Commission to evaluate changes to Olympia’s housing code. The Planning Commission is now considering updates that reduce barriers to diverse housing in Olympia’s residential neighborhoods, many of which only allow single family homes.

The proposed updates would make Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), duplexes, triplexes, and courtyard apartments easier to build throughout Olympia.

The Planning Commission will host a virtual public hearing on Wednesday, September 23rd at 6:30 pm. Use this link to register.

Why you should speak up

  • We keep housing prices in check when we build enough to keep pace with growth. Without that we’ll see more neighbors displaced.
  • We support a car-lite lifestyle when we add housing to Olympia’s least car-reliant neighborhoods that were built in the early 20th century.
  • We support an efficient City government when the City can maintain existing infrastructure rather than miles of new infrastructure added when new neighborhoods are built on the outskirts.
  • We protect forests and farmland when we concentrate development in areas already built, reducing impervious surfaces that create run-off and pollute our watersheds.
  • We encourage vibrant neighborhoods when there is adequate housing within walking distance of a neighborhood center, reducing our reliance on car travel and fossil fuels.

About the Proposal
Full information can be found on the City’s website. It is important to note that all housing types will be subject to Olympia’s low impact development and residential design codes.

Accessory Dwelling Units: The proposal would allow ADUs in association with a single-family residence, with a few specific provisions. The provisions eliminate the requirements for off-street parking and the property owner to live on site. They would also ensure that impact fees do not exceed the actual projected impact of the unit. Olympia currently has many unpermitted ADUs, because this type of housing is versatile and desirable. However, the obstacles to building it legally are significant. This proposal reduces some of those obstacles.

Duplexes on Corner Lots: The proposal would allow duplexes on corner lots in all zoning districts that permit single family residences. This kind of change is key for diversifying housing in Olympia. Single family home-only zones create economic and racial segregation. This proposal rectifies a long-standing problem.

Duplexes, Triplexes, and Courtyard Apartments: The proposal would allow a duplex, triplex, or courtyard apartment in some zoning districts that permit single-family residences unless the city documents a specific infrastructure or physical constraint that would make this requirement unfeasible for a particular parcel. This change too could make Olympia neighborhoods more attainable for more members of our community.
Housing is essential and as our community grows, we have to provide more of it or we’ll see more displacement and growth in rural areas, where the negative environmental impact is greater. Let the City know that you support diverse housing types in your neighborhood and throughout Olympia.

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