Housing Code Updates

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Online Community Open House Jan. 18, 2022

Thank you to the community members who joined us for the Jan. 18 open house! Copies of the presentation slides can be viewed here. A link to the video recording will be shared soon.


Vancouver, like many communities, is facing a housing crisis. As the city continues to grow, there is a desire for new types of housing that would allow residents to live more affordably while also maintaining neighborhood livability. However, current city zoning rules prohibit many of these housing options.

The goal of the project is to update City codes to allow for different, smaller and more affordable types of housing choices. Many are recommended in the Affordable Housing Task Force report (2016) and many are similar to what is allowed in Clark County and other Washington cities nearby and statewide.

The specific goals of this project include:

  • Allowing for the development of diverse housing types to meet changing demographic needs and consumer preferences
  • Expanding market rate, middle income and affordable housing choices
  • Maintaining neighborhood livability with incremental, rather than wholesale, change
  • Providing more opportunities for people to live near where they work and attend school, and reduce costly commutes
  • Facilitating development in areas with full existing public services

What Updates are Being Considered?

To better meet the growing need for housing options in Vancouver, City staff have developed and are seeking community input on the following nine recommended updates to local standards and codes:

The Low-Density Residential Districts are historically designed to preserve and promote neighborhoods of detached single-family homes on larger lots. Flexibility in housing type is promoted by allowing manufactured homes, duplexes, and planned unit developments under special conditions. Other types of uses such as elementary schools, churches, parks, and childcare facilities are permitted at appropriate locations and at an appropriate scale within this zone.

The R-17 zoning district is designed to accommodate detached and attached single-family homes that may or may not include an accessory dwelling unit. The minimum lot size in this zone would be 2,500 square feet with a density of 8.8 to 17.4 units/net acre. Some civic and institutional uses would be permitted as limited or conditional uses.
Learn more about the draft standards for the R-17 Low Density Residential District

A new R-50 zoning category would allow apartments at densities of up to 50 units per acre. The densest current baseline zone in Vancouver is the R-35 zone, allowing 35 units per acre. Higher densities than that can only be achieved presently in mixed use developments or in downtown Vancouver. Creating this zoning district is in line with surrounding jurisdictions, as Clark County has an R-43 designation. Allowing for more units per acre would create additional housing units which would help address the housing shortage.

Learn more about the draft standards for the R-50 High Density Residential District

These standards are intended to allow groups of small-scale cottages around common open spaces in single- or multi-family zoning districts in a manner promoting accessible housing and community interaction. The homes are smaller than what is allowed in other zoning districts but allowed in higher densities. These smaller dwellings can provide more affordable housing opportunities for renters as well as first-time home buyers.

Useful terms:

  • Dwelling, Cottage Cluster. A grouping of detached or attached dwelling units that includes a common courtyard. Cottage clusters are not multiple-unit dwellings.
  • Cottage Cluster Development. A site with one or more cottage clusters. Each cottage cluster as part of a cottage cluster project must have its own common courtyard. Cottages may be on the same lot or parcel or each cottage may be on its own lot or parcel.
  • Common Courtyard. A common area for use by residents of a cottage cluster or other type of residential development. A common courtyard may function as a community yard. Hard and soft landscape features may be included in a common courtyard, such as but not limited to pedestrian paths, lawn, groundcover, trees, shrubs, patios, benches, or gazebos.
  • Community Building. A building intended for the shared use of residents in a development (such as a cottage cluster) that provides space for accessory uses such as community meeting rooms, guest housing, exercise rooms, day care, community eating areas, or picnic shelters.

Learn more about the draft standards for Cottage Clusters

Micro housing refers to single room living units with a minimum floor area of 120 square feet offered on a monthly basis or longer where residents share bathroom and/or kitchen facilities. Micro-housing can also be referred to as micro-units, residential suites, small efficiency dwelling units (SEDUs) and is often marketed to young professionals as dorm-style living. The purpose of these standards would allow smaller unit size multi-family rental properties in multi-family zoning districts. These are small footprint units, typically between 120 square feet and 400 square feet and provide a smaller footprint housing choice for current and future residents.

Learn more about the draft standards for Micro Housing

An Accessory Dwelling Unit, or ADU, is defined as one or more rooms with private bath and kitchen facilities comprising an independent, self-contained dwelling unit within or attached to a single-family home or in a detached building on the same lot as the primary dwelling unit. An ADU is distinguishable from a duplex in that, unlike a duplex, it is clearly subordinate to the primary dwelling unit, both in use and appearance.

While ADUs are allowed under existing code, the purpose of these code updates is to:

  • Provide homeowners with flexibility in establishing separate living quarters within or adjacent to their homes for the purpose of caring for seniors, providing housing for their children or obtaining rental income.
  • Increase the range of housing choices and the supply of accessible and affordable housing units within communities.
  • Ensure that the development of accessory dwelling units does not cause unanticipated impacts on the character or stability of single-family neighborhoods.

Learn more about the draft standards for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

The development of new single-unit homes that prioritize visitability would allow for more accessible and inclusive housing options for those who use wheelchairs, walkers, or otherwise have limited mobility. Universal design features that make houses “visitable” include wider door frames, first-floor bathrooms and bedrooms, ramps or entrances without steps, lower kitchen counter heights, among others. Features like these are typically cost-effective for developers to produce and can allow for residents to live comfortably and independently in their homes regardless of their age or ability.

To ensure that new development fits in with existing neighborhoods that they abut, some setback and buffer requirements should be revisited. Currently, new development in higher density residential zones that directly abut lower density areas is only required to be setback 5 feet from the property line, with a 6-foot high shrub screen or fence.

Local jurisdictions throughout the country have found value in collaborating with faith-based organizations to help alleviate housing insecurity. These standards will allow faith-based organizations to better leverage their land resources to help mitigate Vancouver’s affordable housing crisis. Affordable housing developed on eligible sites must be reserved for households with incomes less than 80 percent of area median income for a minimum of 50 years, even if the religious institution no longer owns the property.

In order to facilitate development of various types of housing in areas near transit, state law requires local governments to adopt lower requirements for the minimum number of parking spaces that must be provided.

Within 1/4 mile of transit stops with service every 15 minutes, no more than 0.75 spaces per unit can be required for affordable or market rate housing. Housing for seniors or disabled persons in these areas cannot be required to provide any spaces per resident, although parking can be required for staff and visitors.

An image of a white C-Tran bus that is parked parallel to a sidewalk. The bus has a bicycle rack and an ADA sticker on the front. The doors on the bus are closed.

If approved and adopted by City Council, most of the above code updates will require developers wanting to use them to go through a site-specific review process with notice given to neighboring properties.

Developers who want to use the new single-family or higher density zoning district standards would have to go through a rezone process, including public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council.

Tell Us What You Think

There are several public meetings in the coming months to learn more about the proposed code changes and provide your feedback. You can provide feedback by submitting oral or written testimony at any of the Planning Commission meeting listed below. Learn more about how to testify before the Planning Commission . Please note that public testimony submissions close at noon the day of the meeting.

  • Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022 - Online Community Open House
  • Jan. 25 2022- Planning Commission Workshop - Draft Code for Updated Standards for New Apartments Next to Existing Homes, Faith-Based Affordable Housing and Reduced Parking for Apartments near transit.
    • Sign-ups coming soon!

Upcoming Community Feedback Opportunities

  • Ongoing - submit comments through Be Heard Vancouver to City staff
  • February 2022 - Planning Commission Public Hearing, not yet scheduled
  • March 2022 - City Council Hearing, not yet scheduled

Online Community Open House Jan. 18, 2022

Thank you to the community members who joined us for the Jan. 18 open house! Copies of the presentation slides can be viewed here. A link to the video recording will be shared soon.


Vancouver, like many communities, is facing a housing crisis. As the city continues to grow, there is a desire for new types of housing that would allow residents to live more affordably while also maintaining neighborhood livability. However, current city zoning rules prohibit many of these housing options.

The goal of the project is to update City codes to allow for different, smaller and more affordable types of housing choices. Many are recommended in the Affordable Housing Task Force report (2016) and many are similar to what is allowed in Clark County and other Washington cities nearby and statewide.

The specific goals of this project include:

  • Allowing for the development of diverse housing types to meet changing demographic needs and consumer preferences
  • Expanding market rate, middle income and affordable housing choices
  • Maintaining neighborhood livability with incremental, rather than wholesale, change
  • Providing more opportunities for people to live near where they work and attend school, and reduce costly commutes
  • Facilitating development in areas with full existing public services

What Updates are Being Considered?

To better meet the growing need for housing options in Vancouver, City staff have developed and are seeking community input on the following nine recommended updates to local standards and codes:

The Low-Density Residential Districts are historically designed to preserve and promote neighborhoods of detached single-family homes on larger lots. Flexibility in housing type is promoted by allowing manufactured homes, duplexes, and planned unit developments under special conditions. Other types of uses such as elementary schools, churches, parks, and childcare facilities are permitted at appropriate locations and at an appropriate scale within this zone.

The R-17 zoning district is designed to accommodate detached and attached single-family homes that may or may not include an accessory dwelling unit. The minimum lot size in this zone would be 2,500 square feet with a density of 8.8 to 17.4 units/net acre. Some civic and institutional uses would be permitted as limited or conditional uses.
Learn more about the draft standards for the R-17 Low Density Residential District

A new R-50 zoning category would allow apartments at densities of up to 50 units per acre. The densest current baseline zone in Vancouver is the R-35 zone, allowing 35 units per acre. Higher densities than that can only be achieved presently in mixed use developments or in downtown Vancouver. Creating this zoning district is in line with surrounding jurisdictions, as Clark County has an R-43 designation. Allowing for more units per acre would create additional housing units which would help address the housing shortage.

Learn more about the draft standards for the R-50 High Density Residential District

These standards are intended to allow groups of small-scale cottages around common open spaces in single- or multi-family zoning districts in a manner promoting accessible housing and community interaction. The homes are smaller than what is allowed in other zoning districts but allowed in higher densities. These smaller dwellings can provide more affordable housing opportunities for renters as well as first-time home buyers.

Useful terms:

  • Dwelling, Cottage Cluster. A grouping of detached or attached dwelling units that includes a common courtyard. Cottage clusters are not multiple-unit dwellings.
  • Cottage Cluster Development. A site with one or more cottage clusters. Each cottage cluster as part of a cottage cluster project must have its own common courtyard. Cottages may be on the same lot or parcel or each cottage may be on its own lot or parcel.
  • Common Courtyard. A common area for use by residents of a cottage cluster or other type of residential development. A common courtyard may function as a community yard. Hard and soft landscape features may be included in a common courtyard, such as but not limited to pedestrian paths, lawn, groundcover, trees, shrubs, patios, benches, or gazebos.
  • Community Building. A building intended for the shared use of residents in a development (such as a cottage cluster) that provides space for accessory uses such as community meeting rooms, guest housing, exercise rooms, day care, community eating areas, or picnic shelters.

Learn more about the draft standards for Cottage Clusters

Micro housing refers to single room living units with a minimum floor area of 120 square feet offered on a monthly basis or longer where residents share bathroom and/or kitchen facilities. Micro-housing can also be referred to as micro-units, residential suites, small efficiency dwelling units (SEDUs) and is often marketed to young professionals as dorm-style living. The purpose of these standards would allow smaller unit size multi-family rental properties in multi-family zoning districts. These are small footprint units, typically between 120 square feet and 400 square feet and provide a smaller footprint housing choice for current and future residents.

Learn more about the draft standards for Micro Housing

An Accessory Dwelling Unit, or ADU, is defined as one or more rooms with private bath and kitchen facilities comprising an independent, self-contained dwelling unit within or attached to a single-family home or in a detached building on the same lot as the primary dwelling unit. An ADU is distinguishable from a duplex in that, unlike a duplex, it is clearly subordinate to the primary dwelling unit, both in use and appearance.

While ADUs are allowed under existing code, the purpose of these code updates is to:

  • Provide homeowners with flexibility in establishing separate living quarters within or adjacent to their homes for the purpose of caring for seniors, providing housing for their children or obtaining rental income.
  • Increase the range of housing choices and the supply of accessible and affordable housing units within communities.
  • Ensure that the development of accessory dwelling units does not cause unanticipated impacts on the character or stability of single-family neighborhoods.

Learn more about the draft standards for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

The development of new single-unit homes that prioritize visitability would allow for more accessible and inclusive housing options for those who use wheelchairs, walkers, or otherwise have limited mobility. Universal design features that make houses “visitable” include wider door frames, first-floor bathrooms and bedrooms, ramps or entrances without steps, lower kitchen counter heights, among others. Features like these are typically cost-effective for developers to produce and can allow for residents to live comfortably and independently in their homes regardless of their age or ability.

To ensure that new development fits in with existing neighborhoods that they abut, some setback and buffer requirements should be revisited. Currently, new development in higher density residential zones that directly abut lower density areas is only required to be setback 5 feet from the property line, with a 6-foot high shrub screen or fence.

Local jurisdictions throughout the country have found value in collaborating with faith-based organizations to help alleviate housing insecurity. These standards will allow faith-based organizations to better leverage their land resources to help mitigate Vancouver’s affordable housing crisis. Affordable housing developed on eligible sites must be reserved for households with incomes less than 80 percent of area median income for a minimum of 50 years, even if the religious institution no longer owns the property.

In order to facilitate development of various types of housing in areas near transit, state law requires local governments to adopt lower requirements for the minimum number of parking spaces that must be provided.

Within 1/4 mile of transit stops with service every 15 minutes, no more than 0.75 spaces per unit can be required for affordable or market rate housing. Housing for seniors or disabled persons in these areas cannot be required to provide any spaces per resident, although parking can be required for staff and visitors.

An image of a white C-Tran bus that is parked parallel to a sidewalk. The bus has a bicycle rack and an ADA sticker on the front. The doors on the bus are closed.

If approved and adopted by City Council, most of the above code updates will require developers wanting to use them to go through a site-specific review process with notice given to neighboring properties.

Developers who want to use the new single-family or higher density zoning district standards would have to go through a rezone process, including public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council.

Tell Us What You Think

There are several public meetings in the coming months to learn more about the proposed code changes and provide your feedback. You can provide feedback by submitting oral or written testimony at any of the Planning Commission meeting listed below. Learn more about how to testify before the Planning Commission . Please note that public testimony submissions close at noon the day of the meeting.

  • Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022 - Online Community Open House
  • Jan. 25 2022- Planning Commission Workshop - Draft Code for Updated Standards for New Apartments Next to Existing Homes, Faith-Based Affordable Housing and Reduced Parking for Apartments near transit.
    • Sign-ups coming soon!

Upcoming Community Feedback Opportunities

  • Ongoing - submit comments through Be Heard Vancouver to City staff
  • February 2022 - Planning Commission Public Hearing, not yet scheduled
  • March 2022 - City Council Hearing, not yet scheduled
  • Please review each of the six recommended changes and respond to the questions. 

    Your input on each recommendation will help the City refine them to address community needs and concerns through development of code standards and requirements, which will happen in the next step of this project. 

    The photos shown are to give you examples of the general housing type being described and the intent for each code update.


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Page last updated: 21 January 2022, 17:23