Steve Brown built this small, detached home in the back of his property after the City of Lynnwood allowed a provision for this type of development. (Contributed photo)

Steve Brown built this small, detached home in the back of his property after the City of Lynnwood allowed a provision for this type of development. (Contributed photo)

Mother-in-law homes popular after cities ease restrictions

Lynnwood and Everett are seeing a spurt of growth after changing city codes to allow for this development.

LYNNWOOD — Steve Brown sees it as an affordability issue.

As home prices skyrocket, the Lynnwood man became a proponent of cities allowing property owners to build mother-in-law homes.

He wanted to build a home at the back of his property for his mother about a decade ago. Lynnwood made no provisions for these types of detached units.

He was part of a group that argued for the idea, but the City Council rejected it in 2009. The issue went away and Brown’s mother, who lived three blocks away from him, died a few years later.

More than a year ago, there was a renewed effort. Brown again was a proponent of the idea, but this time for a different reason. He wanted to build a small cottage where his grown son could live — paying rent — while saving money for his own place to live.

“When I got out of college, I got married and could save enough money to put down a down payment,” Brown said. “These millennials can’t do that. It’s practically impossible for them to put together the money for a down payment.”

He argued that as home prices escalate that this could help residents who are seeking to aid their parents or their grown children. Median home prices in Lynnwood have climbed more than $100,000 over the past decade, up to $444,000 from $331,000 in 2008, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Lynnwood voted in December 2016 to allow detached homes, units with kitchens and baths, to be built on properties with existing homes.

In February last year, Everett allowed detached units to be built.

The concept has proved more popular than expected in Lynnwood, said Todd Hall, the planning manager for the city. He said the city has received a dozen applications for these units.

“There’s such a demand for housing and the need for other alternatives has significantly increased over the last several years,” Hall said.

For the secondary unit to be leased, Lynnwood’s ordinance requires that the additional home be on the side or back of the house, that it fit with the original house and neighborhood, and that the original house be occupied by the owner.

Hall said there were concerns that this ordinance was a back-door measure to allow more density in Lynnwood. He said the city’s comprehensive plan funnels large-scale development into the City Center area south of the Lynnwood Convention Center, around the Alderwood mall and along Highway 99. The comprehensive plan protects single-family housing from increased density.

In Everett, seven homeowners have applied to build these so-called mother-in-law units since the ordinance was passed last year, said Allan Giffen, the city’s planning director.

He said that some of the applications could be a built-up demand for this type of housing. He also said as home prices increase, this is an option for homeowners to gain a new income stream with their properties.

Some of Everett’s older housing stock had mother-in-law homes built on the properties, but when the city established its housing codes in the 1950s, the idea wasn’t included.

Both Lynnwood and Everett had provisions for attached units. Those never proved very popular. Lynnwood had received just 10 applications in the past five years; Everett has received just more than 20 applications over the past 20 years.

Brown offers a reason. He thinks there’s a need for the space between the primary house and the extra unit. Aging parents and grown children value their privacy and independence even when living on the same property with loved ones.

He attests to the standards that went into building his secondary unit. He had to bring paint, siding and roofing samples to City Hall. He finished the 765-square-foot home, which has one-bedroom, an L-shaped kitchen, a bath with a shower and no tub, in November.

“I’m delighted that the city took another look at it,” Brown said. “The bureaucracy moves pretty slow.”

Jim Davis: 425-339-3097; jdavis@heraldnet.com; @HBJnews.

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