Middle Housing

The City of Snohomish, in partnership with LDC Inc., is performing a Missing Middle Housing Analysis. This project is funded by a grant program that was authorized by the 2022 supplemental state operating budget. The Department of Commerce developed this grant program to support cities in their efforts of increasing housing types affordable to all economic segments of the community.

See the June 6, 2023 presentation to the City Council.

What is middle housing, and what will happen in this project?

Middle Housing is generally defined as duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, fiveplexes, sixplexes, townhouses, courtyard apartments, cottage housing, and stacked flats. These are housing types that fall between detached single-family homes and high-density multi-family uses in density, but are considered consistent with a single-family scale and neighborhood character. 

Middle Housing is often referred to as “missing middle” because many communities do not have an abundance of these housing types and in fact have made it impossible or very difficult to build these housing types in most areas through their zoning regulations. 

Middle housing is middle class, workforce housing, meaning it is generally not affordable to people earning very low incomes, but is more affordable than a typical detached home on a single lot.

The goals of this project are to study the presence of existing middle housing in Snohomish, analyze policies and development regulations that make constructing these housing types difficult, and to provide a range of suggested policy changes to help incentivize the construction of middle housing in appropriate locations. There are no regulatory changes required of this project.

Missing Middle graphic


The Planning Commission reviewed images of existing middle housing types in Snohomish and elsewhere at their meeting on March 1st, while staff took notes on what they said about each picture.  Review that information here.

Middle Housing examples

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How does this project relate to other planning work?

This round of funding is provided for cities that have 2024 due dates under the Growth Management Act (GMA) for their Comprehensive Plan update.  The City of Snohomish is beginning this process.  

An important part of the update project is meeting Housing Element requirements of the GMA.  In 2021, legislation was adopted into state statute that substantially increased what cities are required to plan for in their Housing Elements.  Some of the new requirements relate to providing options for middle housing and addressing displacement and equity in housing, which are both being addressed as part of this Middle Housing project.

In addition, the update process will include implementing new regional policies (VISION 2050) and Countywide Planning Policies, as well as accommodating new growth.  The Middle Housing project is an early action that will assist with this process. 

Comp Plan Timeline graphic

During the Middle Housing project, the city and the project team will conduct analysis and begin a community conversation about housing that will also help the city meet the requirements of the periodic Comprehensive Plan update. Learn more about the periodic update here.
Learn more about the periodic update here.

The Project

This project has four parts:

    1. Develop a public engagement plan and conduct a public participation program to obtain feedback on middle housing.  This is the development of a community engagement plan so outreach can occur with community-based organizations, representative for-profit and nonprofit residential developers, renters, and owner-occupied households in residential neighborhoods to participate with the project.  Review the public engagement results here.
    2. Prepare a racial equity and displacement report.  This task begins to identify areas that may be at a higher risk of displacement from market forces that occur with changes to development regulations and capital investments.  Review the completed report here.
    3. Conduct an analysis and recommend policies to address anti-displacement and disparate impacts in housing.  Based on the information gathered in the first two tasks, the project team will be developing a plan to address the potential for displacement or racially disparate impacts.  Review the completed report here.
    4. Prepare a report summarizing changes to support middle housing including recommended changes to regulations, fee structures, incentives, and permitting procedures. This task will produce a menu of strategies for the City of Snohomish to consider as potential solutions to its housing challenges. There is no requirement to adopt and regulatory changes as part of this project, but this could be an opportunity to look at how the existing code could provide more options for middle housing.  Review the completed report here.

MM project timeline

Why Middle Housing?

Middle housing has been shown to be more affordable than both single-detached and high-rise apartments because the land cost is spread among more units, but the construction cost is similar to traditional stick-built housing.  Middle housing also increases housing choice by providing more variety and options for all kinds of people.

Prior to World War II, middle housing was common, even in Snohomish.  After the war, many local jurisdictions, including Snohomish, passed zoning ordinances that made middle housing illegal and that housing variety became a choice between single detached or apartments.  Nowadays, nearly 60% of the city's housing stock is single detached units, almost 35% are multi-family, and the rest are single attached units or mobile homes.

Earnings and affordability

Average rent in Snohomish: $1,188 | Q3 2022 average selling price of single-family home: $952,500, average selling price of condominium: $470,000.
 Home prices available to each income band was calculated in two ways. The base value is calculated using a general rule of thumb that a home should not cost more than three times an annual salary. The upper value is calculated using the Zillow Affordability Calculator. This tool assumes zero monthly debts and a down payment of $20,000, which is a significant assumption. Use discretion when reviewing this table.

 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2021 Metropolitan & Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment & Wage Estimates, Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
 Housing & Urban Development (HUD), FY 2022 Income Limits (based on a family size of four), Seattle-Bellevue, WA HUD Metro FMR Area

University of Washington Center for Real Estate Research, City House Price Data, Quarterly City House Price Data for Q1 2021 through Q3 2022

Come talk to us!

Staff will be at the following locations/events with more information and would love to chat with you!

  • Food Bank: February 28, 3pm-4:30pm
  • Library: March 1, 9:30am-11am
  • Senior Center: March 4, 8:30am-10am
  • Senior Center: March 21, 10am-4pm
  • Food Bank: March 28, 3-5pm
  • Food Bank: March 31, 10am-1pm
  • Senior Center: April 1, 8:30am-10am
  • City clean-up event: April 15
  • Earth Day event: April 22
  • Farmer's Market: May 4
  • Farmer's Market: June 1