The Chehalis City Council voted on first reading Monday to amend its changes and use municipal code to prohibit congregate housing and establish minimum dwelling requirements.
Congregate housing is defined as a type of housing in which each individual or family has a private bedroom or living quarters but shares a common dining room, recreational room or other facilities with other residents.
“When managed well, those can be a nice alternative living situation — a lower-cost alternative. Sadly though, they can also be used to create situations that are not as positive,” City Manager Jill Anderson said to the council.
The standards the city voted to pass on first reading included a minimum dwelling unit size of 310 square feet and must include a kitchen, bathroom and closet, as defined in the International Building Code and the International Residential Code.
Planning and Building Manager Tammy Baraconi said that the minimum square footage was determined by getting the average size set in jurisdictions along Interstate 5.
The code amendment will be put into effect going forward, so congregate housing and dwelling units smaller than 310 square feet that already exist in Chehalis will not be prohibited.
Anderson said that the municipal code changes regarding congregate housing should “eliminate problems down the road.”
The council was prompted to take this action when the Hearing Examiner heard a request for congregate housing to be created in the downtown area in December of 2019 and members of the public voiced their concern. The idea was that these would be an artist-loft type of housing and a lower-cost alternative, Anderson said.
“There was significant concern expressed by the neighbors about bringing in residents in that type of setting— the lack of parking and the concerns that that type of housing might deteriorate over time if there was any change of ownership into a housing of last resort,” she said.
Anderson said that it is important that a congregate housing facility have a good manager in order to quickly put a stop to the illegal activity and deal with conflicts. However, the management could change and not upkeep the same standards of living.
“I think that the biggest concern is just creating structures that have a greater chance for success not only now but long term,” she said. “I don’t think this limits housing, it just defines what is allowed. It’s still going to allow for a variety of housing alternatives.”
It is anticipated that the city will vote on second reading on the code changes at its next council meeting at 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 11, 2021.