In terms of housing units per number of families, Washington state has the dubious distinction of ranking rock-bottom in the nation. For years, the Seattle King County Association of REALTORS® has been working to help increase inventory, with a focus on lowering barriers to developing affordable options. But, while some communities in the region have taken steps toward embracing the compact housing known as “the missing middle,” others are experiencing resistance. To help dispel doubts, the REALTORS® filled two large buses with elected officials, planning staff, and others in the local housing sphere this spring, and brought them on a tour of a dozen innovative affordable housing sites, demonstrating that thoughtful density was not only possible – it already exists.
Taylor Shanaman, the association’s Government Affairs Director, explains that the idea came about one day when she was talking with colleagues about the frustrating obstacles to missing middle housing. “I said, ‘Somebody ought to put these officials on a bus and show them that they’re already living among it, and it’s working!’ It was almost a joke, but once it was out there, it really started to make sense. So we made it happen – in less than two months!” Partnering with the Washington State Department of Commerce, the local Master Builders Association, the Puget Sound Regional Council, Sound Cities Association, and Washington REALTORS®, in addition to securing a REALTOR® Party Housing Opportunity Grant, helped bring the ambitious event to fruition.
The program was carefully coordinated to make the most of the time with its captive audience. Onboard the buses, between each stop, REALTOR® leaders with expertise in missing middle housing delivered presentations covering topics from public acceptance and good design to permitting, ownership models, and infrastructure requirements. At three separate stops, the more than sixty passengers disembarked and toured distinctive compact neighborhoods with a principal project developer, learning about zoning challenges, the cottage housing movement, and the demographic of those attracted to living in the neighborhoods. Participants received a packet including a recent press release from the State Department of Commerce stating the need to produce over one million homes in the next twenty years; an article from the Seattle Times on missing middle housing; and a ‘toolkit’ pamphlet produced by AARP and Opticos Design, the firm that identified the concept and develops solutions for ‘Missing Middle Housing.’ At the luncheon program following the bus tour, an Opticos Design associate led an afternoon of further instruction on missing middle housing, which qualified as continuing education credit for REALTORS®.
Participants have been raving about the tour and program, reports Shanaman, who says that the timing was perfect: “Not only are we headed into candidate interviews, but this year’s legislative session was largely focused on alleviating the housing crisis.”
The REALTORS® will soon be meeting with their partners to unveil a short video of the tour and discuss how to maximize the value of the event. Given the immense amount of work involved in coordinating all these officials, it won’t happen annually, notes Shanaman, but the success of the tour can be leveraged to remind decision makers that housing density doesn’t have to be scary. “We’ve shown them that compact housing, thoughtfully done with sensitivity to the neighborhood, is working. We arranged for one of the country’s top missing middle housing experts to present a compelling argument for the concept; and we have great momentum and strengthened partnerships moving forward in our advocacy for this much needed, affordable, housing.” In fact, the association’s upcoming Housing Issues Briefing, a popular annual event, will keep the focus on the steps necessary to develop missing middle housing in the region.
Applying for the Housing Opportunity Grant was “Super easy,” reports Shanaman. “The REALTOR® Party team worked patiently with us to make sure our request met the criteria and helped us with any tweaking that was necessary. All in all, it was a great experience that allowed us to do a great deal for our association and our community.”
To learn more about how the Seattle King County Association of REALTORS® is working to solve the region’s affordable housing crisis by promoting missing middle housing, contact Taylor Shanaman, Government Affairs Director, at 253.651.5037 or email@example.com.