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A bill just passed in the WA Senate legalizing “Tiny Houses” and “Tiny House Communities.” It was introduced by Republican State Senator Hans Zeiger, 25th District (Puyallup).
Here’s the bill’s definition:
“Tiny house” and “tiny house with wheels” means a dwelling to be used as permanent housing with permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation built in accordance with the 2018 International Resident Code Appendix Q.
Appendix Q relaxes various requirements in the body of the code as they apply to houses that are 400 square feet in area or less. Attention is specifically paid to features such as compact stairs, including stair handrails and headroom, ladders, reduced ceiling heights in /offs and guard and emergency escape and rescue opening requirements at lofts.
A lot of real-estate and planning jargon has been added to the bill since it was first introduced which I get pretty lost in. Generally I think I favor the concept of having legal provisions that can assist folks in downsizing their lifestyles while making housing more accessible to those of minimal means. That said, I think all housing should be sited in such a way that it doesn’t spoil natural resources or convert arable land.
But my interest in this really stems from my firm belief that one path towards a future where we have a re-localized food system is to make provisions for working farms to be able to provide adequate housing, seasonal or year-round, for the people who are directly involved in farming and their families.
Currently, Washington has a program that’s administered by the State Department of Health for temporary/seasonal farmworker housing. The Health Dept. can issue building permits that supersede county zoning rules (except setback, bldg. height and road access). In other words, temporary farmworker housing can be built in excess of, say, the one dwelling per 10-acre ag-zoned property limitation which is in place for much of the zoned agricultural lands in Spokane County. There are a lot of regulations that a farm must adhere to when it opts to build housing under this program. Those regulations are there primarily to protect health and safety of the farmworker residents of the seasonal housing. I would like to see an educational program put together by someone (Tilth? Health Dept?) to assist small-scale farmers in understanding the temporary housing program better and assisting in implementing it for farms that desire to go that route. Note that my understanding is that temporary housing means housing that’s lived in for no more than 9 consecutive months.
Office of Rural & Farmworker Housing
In light of the fact that food system relocalization is a priority for combating climate change as well as for improving food security, public health and the regional economy, as well as the fact that many families with a history of seasonal farmwork have attained the financial ability to purchase their own farms, I also suggest adjusting the current concept of farmworker housing to include permanent farmworker housing and using the Tiny House Bill as a vehicle to codify such a modification. For example, a ten-acre working farm with one main dwelling and several small dwellings where farmworkers (could be partners, employees, a co-op or collective, non-profit, etc.) live and farm year-round has, in some cases, much greater chance of being economically viable than without the extra live-in labor. It’s going to be a long time before small-scale local food production for local consumption pays well enough for most farmworkers to be able to afford off-site housing and the expenses of commuting to work on a farm. Plus, who’s going to be on-site when the sprinklers need to go on at 3am to avoid frost damage or the nanny goat needs assistance kidding or to pull snow off the hoophouse?
I wonder if the tiny house bills could be amended, in committee or on the floor this session. Or could we organize a push to modify them next year to make provisions for permanent farmworker housing blending the concepts in the Health Dept. program and the Tiny House bill, if it passes.
How about having the Tiny House bill also amend these sections of the Temporary Worker Housing Law, Chapter 70.114A RCW like so (Note: While this law has “temporary” in its title, its preamble reads “The legislature finds that there is an inadequate supply of temporary and permanent [emphasis mine] housing for migrant and seasonal workers in this state. The legislature also finds that unclear, complex regulations related to the development, construction, and permitting of worker housing inhibit the development of this much needed housing. “).
Please note the use of underline and strikethrough below. Also available as a PDF. Link at bottom.
Housing on rural worksites. [rural is not defined]
(1) Temporary worker housing located on a rural worksite, and used for workers employed on the worksite, shall be considered a permitted use at the rural worksite for the purposes of zoning or other land use review processes, subject only to height, setback, and road access requirements of the underlying zone.
(2) Permanent (Year-round) worker housing located on a worksite that also meets the definition of Farm and Agricultural Land as provided for in RCW84.34.020, and used for workers employed on the worksite, shall be considered a permitted use at the worksite for the purposes of zoning or other land use review processes, subject only to height, setback, and road access requirements of the underlying zone.
Licensing, operation, and inspection—Rules.
The department and the department of labor and industries shall adopt joint rules for the licensing, operation, and inspection of temporary and permanent worker housing, and the enforcement thereof. These rules shall establish standards that are as effective as the standards developed under the Washington industrial safety and health act, chapter49.17 RCW.
Temporary and permanent worker building code—Rules—Guidelines—Exceptions—Enforcement—Variations.
(1) The department shall adopt by rule a temporary worker building code in conformance with the temporary worker housing standards developed under the Washington industrial safety and health act, chapter 49.17 RCW, and the following guidelines:
(a) The temporary worker building code shall provide construction standards for shelter and associated facilities that are safe, secure, and capable of withstanding the stresses and loads associated with their designated use, and to which they are likely to be subjected by the elements;
(b) The temporary worker building code shall permit and facilitate designs and formats that allow for maximum affordability, consistent with the provision of decent, safe, and sanitary housing;
(c) In developing the temporary worker building code the department of health shall consider:
(i) The need for dormitory type housing for groups of unrelated individuals; and
(ii) The need for housing to accommodate families;
(d) The temporary worker building code shall incorporate the opportunity for the use of construction alternatives and the use of new technologies that meet the performance standards required by law;
(e) The temporary worker building code shall include standards for heating and insulation appropriate to the type of structure and length and season of occupancy;
(f) The temporary worker building code shall include standards for temporary worker housing that are to be used only during periods when no auxiliary heat is required; and
(g) The temporary worker building code shall provide that persons operating temporary worker housing consisting of four or fewer dwelling units or combinations of dwelling units, dormitories, or spaces that house nine or fewer occupants may elect to comply with the provisions of the temporary worker building code, and that unless the election is made, such housing is subject to the codes adopted under RCW 19.27.031.
(2) In adopting the temporary worker building code, the department shall make exceptions to the codes listed in RCW 19.27.031 and chapter 19.27A RCW, in keeping with the guidelines set forth in this section. The initial temporary worker building code adopted by the department shall be substantially equivalent with the temporary worker building code developed by the state building code council as directed by section 8, chapter 220, Laws of 1995.
(3) “Tiny houses” and “tiny houses with wheels” built in accordance with the 2018 International Resident Code Appendix Q shall be allowed.
(4) The provisions of this section, so much as they are applicable, shall also apply to permanent worker housing as provided for in 70.114A.050(2).
(4)(5) The temporary and permanent worker building code authorized and required by this section shall be enforced by the department.
The department shall have the authority to allow minor variations from the temporary and permanent worker building code that do not compromise the health or safety of workers. Procedures for requesting variations and guidelines for granting such requests shall be included in the rules adopted under this section.