Research Report Making Room for Housing Near Transit: Zoning's Promise and Barriers
An Examination of Policy and Outcomes in the Puget Sound
Yonah Freemark, Lydia Lo, Olivia Fiol, Gabe Samuels, Andrew Trueblood
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Nestled between the Cascades and the Olympic Mountains, blessed with moderate weather, and home to a strong job market, the Puget Sound is one of the most attractive metropolitan areas in the United States. These conditions have encouraged growth: among the country’s 50 largest cities, Seattle grew faster than all but Fort Worth and Austin from 2010 to 2020. This momentum, however, has had negative consequences. Affordability has declined, and the region does not have adequate hosing to meet demand, reducing its ability to attract residents or retain its existing population.

Why this matters

Recent approval of major taxpayer-supported transit investments will expand access to mobility for residents in communities throughout the Puget Sound region, as $54 billion in planned expenditures will add dozens of new light rail and bus rapid transit stations between 2023 and 2044. These projects will speed commutes for residents and workers, offering them affordable, environmentally sustainable travel options.

These new transit investments could set the stage for more housing options in the region, but much of the land near stations is now zoned to limit housing construction or housing density. About one third of station-adjacent land is zoned for only single-family homes; almost 50 percent requires at least one parking spot per unit. Both zoning restrictions add to housing costs, making new construction more difficult and new homes more expensive. And zoning allowances for new housing are not proportionate to real estate demand, with many of the region's most popular jurisdictions subject to stringent land-use regulations.

More than 40 Percent of Land Near Transit in the Puget Sound Allows Fewer than Five Units Per Property

More than 40 Percent of Land Near Transit in the Puget Sound Allows Fewer than Five Units Per Property
Share of land area, population, housing units, and housing permits within a half-mile of existing and planned fixed-guideway transit stations, by type of housing allowed under current zoning


As a result, the Puget Sound region has a unique opportunity to build upon its strengths by expanding access to housing near transit for all residents. With housing construction slowing in recent decades, policymakers can implement new land-use policies locally or statewide to accelerate construction, add space for residents, and reduce housing costs.

Key takeaways

With new zoning policies, municipalities throughout the Puget Sound could make room for more homes. Statewide reforms could promote construction in jurisdictions that have restricted growth. We estimate that, collectively, these reforms could increase housing production by almost 70 percent over the next decade compared with the status quo.

If regional stakeholders hope to increase housing near transit, a diversity of reforms scaled to community needs is necessary. We find that three types of reforms could be most effective in the region:

  • Multiply. Allowing high-density housing near transit could effectively meet demand, especially in the city of Seattle, since recent development has focused on high-density apartments next to stations.
  • Missing Middle. Allowing small-scale apartment buildings on small lots would benefit cities and towns throughout the region, bridging the gap between single-family homes and larger apartment buildings.
  • Plexify. Allowing two- to four-unit buildings could make the most difference in high-wealth suburban communities like Bellevue, Lake Forest Park, and Redmond, which have restricted much of their land area to only allow the construction of single-family homes.

We also studied a fourth reform—legalizing apartment units on land now zoned only for commercial space—but found that it would have a limited impact on housing overall, because commercial-only zoning is rare in most of the areas near transit in the region.

A Diversity of Zoning Changes Could Maximize Potential Housing Construction in Different Types of Communities

A Diversity of Zoning Changes Could Maximize Potential Housing Construction in Different Types of Communities
Estimated percent change in housing allowed to be built compared with the status quo within a half-mile of transit stations in the Puget Sound, by housing market area


In addition to the report detailing our findings, we present a companion product that includes an analysis of potential policy reforms for each of 35 municipalities and unincorporated areas in the Puget Sound region, with maps representing neighborhoods in each community within a half-mile of transit stations.

Research Areas Housing Land use Neighborhoods, cities, and metros
Tags Housing affordability Community and economic development Housing markets Land use and zoning Transportation Neighborhood change
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center
Research Methods Quantitative data analysis
States Washington
Cities Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
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