Gov. Jay Inslee and a bipartisan group of legislators think that getting rid of single-family zoning will fix the homeless problem. They ought to think again.

The bill Inslee is proposing would tell cities with more than 20,000 residents to allow duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, fiveplexes, sixplexes, stacked flats, townhouses and courtyard apartments in lots that are zoned for detached single-family homes and situated within a half mile radius of a major transit stop.

Apparently, the theory is that developers would rush in to erect all this new housing, thereby driving down sales and rental prices and opening up housing opportunities to people now living in tents and RVs. The idea appeals both to progressives (some of whom might not mind sticking it to all those folks in their big single-family homes in affluent neighborhoods like Laurelhurst, Queen Anne and Blue Ridge) and conservatives (who like to believe every problem has a free-market solution).

But what is most likely to happen? Developers certainly will jump at the chance to build in areas that have been off-limits to them. However, experience has shown that builders are not social workers; they want, above all, to maximize profits. In parts of Seattle that have been rezoned in recent years, many old single-family houses have, indeed, been replaced by multiple housing units. Those new housing units, however, often sell for a million bucks each.

Seattle housing costs are among the highest in the country, but that has not stopped people from moving here. The local economy is strong, there are plentiful good paying jobs in the high-tech sector and, of course, there are those mountains and all that water. Demand remains high; consequently, so do prices. It will take more than rezoning to bring housing costs down. And, even if there is an incremental decline, that would not be nearly enough to open up room for people living in tents.

If we really want to house the homeless, government – meaning taxpayers – will have to pay for it. That may be the solution our leaders in Olympia do not want to face. 

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