Legislation sponsored by Sen. Sharon Shewmake (D-Bellingham) to expand construction of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, passed out of the Senate Committee on Local Government, Land Use & Tribal Affairs today.

ADUs, often referred to as backyard cottages or mother-in-law units, are residential homes that occupy the same lot as an existing home. As smaller buildings that share a lot, they are typically more affordable and more environmentally friendly than a traditional single-family home.

Currently, many local regulations make ADUs expensive or difficult to build, limiting the supply of them available to renters and buyers. Shewmake’s bill, SB 5235, would cut red tape and remove certain barriers to construction, and requires comprehensive plans under the Growth Management Act allow for ADUs within an urban growth area.

“Washington is in an affordable housing crisis,” said Shewmake. “We need to expand our housing supply, and this is a way to do it that’s affordable, environmentally friendly, and preserves the character of our communities. These ADUs are a win-win – they’re an option for someone looking for an affordable place to live, and they’re great for homeowners who want to make some extra money off unused space on their property or provide a home for an aging family member or a young family member looking to start out on their own.”

“As we’re working to address the shortage of housing options for our neighbors, it’s important that we look for innovative solutions wherever they may be,” said Sen. Liz Lovelett (D – Anacortes), cosponsor of the bill. “By expanding ADU construction, we can support our neighbors in need of affordable housing, make use of otherwise underutilized space, and provide homeowners with new streams of income. This collaborative approach is a huge step towards addressing housing issues, and I look forward to continued work with our colleagues this session.”

The City of Bellingham is currently considering rule changes to make it easier to build ADUs in the city. Shewmake argued strongly for such changes, and for them to occur statewide.

“We can’t make more affordable housing if we don’t make more housing. Blocking ADUs makes zero sense,” said Shewmake. “We should have more ADUs in Bellingham, and we should have them in Seattle too – and Wenatchee, and Spokane, and Tacoma, and all our urban areas. Housing is a problem statewide and in Whatcom County, and I’m pushing for solutions that will work both statewide and in Whatcom County.”

The bill moves on to the Senate Rules Committee, from which it can be pulled to the floor for a vote by the full Senate.