Skyrocketing costs and regulations threaten Seattle’s houseboat communities

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Increased regulations and tougher permitting requirements are making it difficult for Seattle’s century-old houseboat community on Lake Union to survive, according to the Lake Union Liveaboard Association.

The association was founded in 2009 to protect the city’s liveaboard population, and it has been successful in lobbying city government in keeping both houseboats and floating homes from being bought up and transformed into high-end housing.

Association members are fighting new classifications by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections in what constitutes a “vessel.” Along with the environmental concerns, such as managing gray water, residents have seen significant increases in slip fees during the last few seasons, due to the new language. Seattle marinas that host houseboats are charged higher fees for the boats compared with other vessels.

Washington Sen. Jamie Pedersen has sponsored state laws twice in the last six years to limit regulations. His latest sponsored bill addresses the wording change and other issues that face the community. It passed the state Senate last week 46-0 and is scheduled to go before the House Committee on Environment and Energy.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources supports the latest version of the bill after working on some updates and meeting with the liveaboards.

While the city has taken steps to protect the houseboat communities, laws in 2014 permanently capped the number of houseboats and floating homes. On Lake Union, there are about 200 houseboats and 508 floating homes. The hope is that the bill will permanently protect the waterfront community.


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