A primary focus of Home in Tacoma has been to identify just how to absorb new growth into areas outside of the regional growth centers and mixed use centers. The largest change by land area is the conversion of single family zoning to an inclusive zoning framework that enables more housing types citywide: duplexes, triplexes, accessory dwelling units, and clusters of townhouses or cottage housing.
Another significant change is the addition of mid-scale residential along walkable corridors, which should enable a bridge between development in the higher intensity mixed-use centers with lower scale predominantly residential neighborhoods. This mid-scale is meant to be along transit corridors that will be the targets of increased transit service and capital investments that will make transit more convenient to use in the coming years: think buses coming more often with better stations and reliability as well as light rail for our highest use corridors. Streets like 6th Avenue, Pacific Avenue, S 19th and others are on the books and will be the primary focus of higher intensity development outside of centers.
Tacoma needs to absorb on the order of 127,000 new residents and another 90,000 jobs by 2040. Updated numbers for 2044 were just passed, but they're generally in terms of new housing units. What's also interesting is that among these units, the City is now required to plan for individual income ranges such as 50-80% of Area Median Income. About 80% of the units allocated to Tacoma have to be affordable to those making 80% AMI or less.
New legislation that passed the Washington State Legislature last year creates a transit oriented development framework for high capacity transit and regional transit routes in the urban growth area. The State is making clear that it wants to see additional housing options alongside investments that have been made for transit infrastructure and they are no longer going to abide local governments imposing land use requirements that make it harder for low and moderate income people from finding housing that is transit-accessible, walkable, and contributes to sustainability of the region.
The law (HB 1110) includes the following elements to produce a comprehensive program:
- Affordable housing is defined as housing that costs no more than 60% of the area's median income for renting, and no more than 80% of the area's median income for owner-occupied units. The income limit can vary depending on household size.
- A grant program is available to support the construction of affordable housing near rapid transit corridors.
- Another grant program is available to help cities and counties modify their comprehensive plans and land use regulations to comply with the new transit-oriented standards.
- Builders of affordable housing near transit can receive a density bonus, meaning they can build more units than would normally be allowed.
- Cities and counties are not allowed to require more parking than what's needed for ADA accessibility. Within 1/2 mile of new rapid transit, cities and counties may not consider parking to be a part of the permitting process.
- Rapid transit is defined as high capacity transit, commuter rail, light rail, and bus service in some way funded by Sound Transit.
- Cities and counties are not allowed to prohibit multifamily housing from being built within certain distances of rapid transit stops or station hubs.
In concert, these reforms make it easier to build housing at densities that make sense for neighborhoods near transit. More supply, especially more supply of affordable units developed with appreciation to of income levels, should yield greater affordability for housing at all levels. The added bonus of being accessible to rapid transit service for more Washingtonians will help transit systems be more effective by serving better passenger loads, which should help the systems be more solvent and to provide potentially better quality service with increased fare revenue. Having access to transit service also means that more people will be able to take advantage of owning or using fewer private vehicles to be mobile, which means less traffic even as cities grow into the coming years.