Wilson bill opens door to kit-built homes, one solution to housing shortage

OLYMPIA – A bill eliminating hurdles for small kit-built homes won unanimous approval in the Senate Tuesday, offering a potential solution to Washington’s shortage of affordable housing.

Senate Bill 5657, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, allows kit homes up to 800 square feet to receive design approvals at the factory, and avoid local reviews at the blueprint stage. The measure now moves to the House.

Wilson told the Senate the bill could help alleviate the state’s growing need for new housing, opening the door to small-home developments and additional dwelling units on existing residential properties. The state Department of Commerce estimated last year that Washington will need 1 million new housing units over the next two decades to keep up with population growth.

“Let the building begin,” Wilson said. “This bill will allow quality, quantity and affordability – exactly what this state needs.”

Wilson’s bill would exempt kit homes from local design reviews when they are certified at the factory for compliance with the Washington State Building Code. The inspections would be done by the state Department of Labor and Industries when kits are manufactured in Washington state, or by counterpart agencies in other states.

Kit homes are assembled on-site from materials provided by the manufacturer. Prices start as low as $10,000, and models range in size from a tiny 60 square feet to 2,000 square feet or more.

Wilson reminded the Senate that kit-home construction was common before World War II. A hundred years ago, homebuyers could pick a pattern from the Sears catalog or many others. Lumber was cut to size at the factory, and all materials and fittings were shipped to the site. Manufacturers offered easy financing, and often homeowners did the assembly themselves.

The same practices can be used today for ADUs and larger-scale developments. Wilson said the smaller kit homes also offer an affordable option for ambitious do-it-yourselfers. “Kit homes are an important part of the solution to our housing shortage,” Wilson said. “When we are talking about cookie-cutter designs that come from a factory, we shouldn’t have to review the blueprints more than once.”