Article: UW study finds some cities in NCW have adopted denser housing measures

By Steve Maher
Our Valley Our Future
April 18, 2024

A few years ago, the state Legislature passed a couple bills to incentivize local governments to allow for more housing density with the addition of duplexes, triplexes, attached dwelling units, and the like. Now, a new study has taken a look at what changes local governments, including several in NCW, made to accommodate denser housing after receiving grant funding to remove unnecessary regulatory constraints.

The study by the Washington Center for Real Estate Research, based at the University of Washington, found 66 of the 103 cities receiving state grants adopted at least one of eight measures designed to increase the number of housing units that could be built in their jurisdiction. Of the seven NCW cities that received grants, five have made changes.

The incentives to increase housing came out of two bills passed in 2019 and 2020. The legislation encouraged cities to take such actions as allowing for more development near transit stations; removing parking requirements; allowing more duplexes and triplexes, accessory dwelling units; and allowing for the conversion of single-family homes to multi-family housing.

And the state provided a total of $10 million in grants to encourage cities to do so. In NCW, the City of Leavenworth adopted five of the eight measures, ranking sixth out of the 103 cities in the state. East Wenatchee adopted three. Wenatchee, Moses Lake, and Winthrop all approved one each. The cities of Chelan and Twisp adopted no changes, according to the study. (For a complete breakdown of the measures adopted in NCW, please see below.)

To be fair to Wenatchee, the city adopted one of the measures — multi-family tax exemption — before the two bills were passed by state legislators. Wenatchee did not receive credit for that move in the UW study.

And to be fair to Wenatchee and other cities, other obstacles such as rising interest rates and higher construction costs have emerged in recent years. Some cities also used the grants to develop proposed ordinances only to see their City Councils reject the changes.

The City of Aberdeen adopted all eight measures. Others in the top 10: Vancouver (7 measures), Bothell (7), Spokane (6), Kirkland (6), Leavenworth (5), Lake Stevens (5), Marysville (5), Sumner (5), and Tacoma (5).

For the 37 cities that haven’t taken actions to get more homes built in more places, new bills passed by the Legislature in the past couple years are now requiring cities to take those actions, including requiring local governments to allow for duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, accessory dwelling unit, and cottages. The UW study didn’t take into account these new laws.

The Washington State Standard published an article recently about the study. The nonprofit news organization noted the most popular action by local governments (49 percent did so) was to loosen zoning rules to allow for more housing. Another 27 percent of cities reduced parking requirements; 26 percent implemented density bonuses for developers; 25 percent began using the state’s multifamily tax exemption program; 24 percent streamlined permitting or reduced permit fees; 14 percent prepared Environmental Impact Statements for subareas; 7 percent utilized public land for affordable housing; and 4 percent began using transfer of development rights (TDRs) to provide density credits.

Here are the measures that the NCW cities have adopted:


  • Streamlined permitting or reduced permit fees
  • Inclusionary zoning, including upzoning for affordable housing
  • Multi-family tax exemption
  • Parking reductions
  • Permitting priority/fee reduction for affordable housing

East Wenatchee

  • Inclusionary zoning, including upzoning for affordable housing
  • Multi-family tax exemption
  • Streamlined permitting or reduced permit fees


  • Inclusionary zoning, including upzoning for affordable housing


  • Streamlined permitting or reduced permit fees

Moses Lake

  • Multi-family tax exemption