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Why we’re listening to community about backyard cottages and in-law apartments in Seattle.

As Seattle faces a housing and affordability crisis, we need more housing options for working and middle-class families across the city.  

One important option are backyard cottages and in-law apartments (formally known as Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs). They offer badly needed options in single-family neighborhoods, where homeownership is out of reach for too many people, and housing options are limited. 

We’ve allowed these options in Seattle for years, but only two percent of single-family lots include them.  

We’ve also heard from community that backyard cottages help homeowners stay in their neighborhood, either by providing additional rental income or giving empty-nesters a place to downsize in their own backyard. They allow more families to live in quieter, less urban neighborhoods near parks and schools. And for intergenerational families who want to be close – for childcare, to share housing costs, or simply to spend more time together – a home with a backyard cottage or in-law unit is a great solution.  

For all these reasons, the City of Seattle has been working to lower the hurdles for property owners who hope to make this choice. 

By helping remove financial barriers, streamlining the permitting process, and supporting people interested in ADUs, we can promote more flexible and space-efficient housing choices. Other cities have taken this step – Portland, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. Seattle should, too.  

One step we’ve already taken was when Mayor Durkan directed us to fast-track pre-approved designs for backyard cottages.  

With the Hearing Examiner decision this week opening the door to legislative action to encourage backyard cottages and in-law apartments, we want to hear more from community about the barriers we can remove to make these homes part of our housing solution. For most families, costs of construction make an ADU unattainable, and the permitting process is too lengthy, which leaves only the wealthiest and developers able to construct ADUs. That’s why we’ve been holding community roundtables and having conversations all across Seattle about the future of backyard cottages in Seattle.

Thank you to those who have already made recommendations on this effort or attended the many community meetings, open houses, and listening sessions. We appreciate you showing up and making your voice heard. We also thank those who have weighed in on the environmental analysis we prepared so that policymakers understand the potential outcomes in our neighborhoods and city.  

The City of Seattle continues to listen to your feedback. Send your comments to the Office of Planning and Community Development at And if you can, testify at the Council hearing at City Hall on June 11

The finish line is in sight. Now in the final stretch, we need your help and input one last time so we can make sure Seattle gets this housing option right.

Sam Assefa, OPCD 

Andrés Mantilla, Department of Neighborhoods