Wilson bill clears way for inexpensive kit homes, one answer to Washington’s affordable housing crisis

Longview senator would fast-track local building permits for standardized designs

OLYMPIA – Washington lawmakers should clear the way for inexpensive kit homes as one solution to the state’s affordable-housing crisis, says Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview.

“A hundred years ago, people bought houses from the Sears catalog — they came in a boxcar, you found a local crew to build them or you did it yourself,” Wilson said. “We see prewar kit bungalows standing proudly today in every community of the state. As prices of starter homes skyrocket, we ought to take another look at kit homes as a solution for today.”

Wilson has introduced Senate Bill 5657, a measure that would streamline local government permitting processes for kit homes that already meet standards for construction design. Kit homes are factory-built but not factory assembled. The measure would allow local governments to adopt fast-track approval processes for standardized kit designs.

Lawmakers this year are beginning to realize the state’s affordable housing shortage has reached a crisis stage, Wilson said, and inexpensive kit homes offer one solution. The kits offer a way to encourage homeownership even at the lowest income levels, he said. Wilson’s legislation also envisions kit-home developments for public housing as an alternative to costly high-rise projects and multifamily apartment blocks.

“Kit homes are the ultimate in plug-and-play design. They can be used for anything from tiny-house villages for the homeless to cabins to high-density development. Government regulation is one of the biggest reasons for today’s high costs. But when we’re talking about cookie-cutter designs that come from a factory, we shouldn’t have to review blueprints more than once.”

Kit homes already on the market range from a genuinely tiny 60 square feet to suburban-style homes of 2,000 square feet or more. Prices for unfinished kits start at less than $10,000, as seen here.  Land, construction and costs imposed by government would naturally add to the cost, Wilson said, but mass production of kits offers a way to achieve economies of scale in materials and construction. Wilson’s bill would streamline permitting processes for kit homes of less than 800 square feet, which offer the greatest appeal for inexpensive starter homes and public housing.

“Amid this housing crisis, we need to look at ways to encourage new affordable-home construction, and mass-produced kit homes offer a way to do it at low cost,” Wilson said. “My bill outlines the concept – a streamlined process that forces design review only once, allows local governments flexibility to decide what sort of housing they will accept, and does not interfere with local zoning and state land-use requirements.”

The measure has been referred to the Senate State Government and Elections Committee, where Wilson is the ranking Republican member.