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Seattle Explores Ways To Encourage More Homeowners To Add Backyard Cottages

Stefan Hampden
Cast Architecture
A backyard art studio and guest house designed by the Seattle firm Cast Architecture

Since 2010, Seattle has allowed homeowners to build cottages in their backyards, but only about 200 have been built. Now officials are trying to come up with ways to stimulate construction of cottages as part of a plan to create more housing in a rapidly growing city. 

A backyard cottage is a small stand-alone house or an apartment built above a detached garage, tucked behind a regular single-family home. It can't be larger than 800 square feet, including the garage or storage space. 

The city says building more of them would increase Seattle’s supply of affordable housing and provide rental income to homeowners. But people who have added backyard cottages say they’ve encountered some hurdles.


Matt Stevenson, who lives in Fremont, said that when he had a cottage built on his property, the city required him to create two off-street parking spaces, one to bring his own home up to code and the other for the new unit.

"We were sort of curious as to why it was okay for 71 years to not have one, but suddenly we needed two," Stevenson said at a city council meeting. 

He said adding that parking was not necessary in his neighborhood, and he’d like to see the city relax its parking requirements for backyard cottages.

Other people say they’d like the city to drop its requirement that the homeowner live on the property. They say the owner should be able to rent out both the main home and the cottage.

Councilmember Mike O'Brien said he aims to simplify the process for homeowners. 

"You know, it may be that we could come up with some pre-approved plans that folks could pick that might streamline the process if they had a straightforward site and didn’t want to get into all the minutiae themselves," O'Brien said. "It may be there’s some financing tools that we could lay out.”

O'Brien said he's had preliminary talks with some banks about how to help homeowners tap loans to build cottages.

The city is planning two public hearings on this in January, and council members will probably introduce code change legislation after that. 

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