With the “microhousing” trend expanding to West Seattle, including a new Junction proposal for 31 units in 4 stories on a 3770-square-foot parcel, questions are coming up here that already have been raised in other parts of the city, and four councilmembers have announced a public meeting aimed at answers. Here’s the official announcement circulated today:
Seattle City Councilmembers Tom Rasmussen, Nick Licata, Sally J. Clark and Richard Conlin today announced a public meeting on micro-housing developments on April 18, in response to questions and concerns raised in several Seattle neighborhoods.
“Several Councilmembers and I are sponsoring a two hour meeting to review what is occurring due to the strong interest and concern we are hearing in the neighborhoods,” Councilmember Tom Rasmussen stated. “A portion of the meeting will include an opportunity for the public to provide comments and recommendations on what, if any, regulations should be enacted for this unique type of housing.”
In addition to a public comment opportunity, representatives from the Department of Planning and Development (DPD), the Office of Housing (OH) and City Council staff will discuss Seattle’s recent experience with micro-housing.
WHAT: Micro-housing development discussion
WHEN: Thursday, April 18, 11:30 am – 1:30 pm
WHERE: Council Chambers, second floor
Seattle City Council, 600 Fourth Ave
WHO: Seattle City Councilmembers and Council staff
Representatives from Seattle’s Dept. of Planning and Development
Representatives from Seattle’s Office of Housing
“I want to see more affordable housing built in Seattle along with our residential neighborhoods accommodating housing options that contribute to their character,” stated Councilmember Nick Licata, chair of the Council’s Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture Committee. “I think both objectives can be accomplished and I look forward to this forum providing an opportunity to hear suggestions on how to fulfill both.”
“I’ve visited some of these micro-units,” said Council President Sally J. Clark. “They provide decent, often attractive housing for a range of people who don’t need or want a lot of space. They’re also appearing in greater numbers and more rapidly than some in the surrounding neighborhood want. This forum can provide a good airing of people’s support, concerns and ideas for appropriate regulation.”
“Microhousing can be an affordable option that works well with neighborhoods,” said Councilmember Richard Conlin, chair of the Council’s Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee. “However, it does not fit neatly into Seattle’s land use code, and we are looking for input on code improvements that will preserve the affordability while ensuring that these developments reflect both the letter and the spirit of our land use laws.”
In recent years, micro-housing has emerged as an increasingly common residential building product in Seattle. Since 2006, DPD has received permit applications for 44 projects. Those completed projects have a total capacity of about 2,000 people. In 2012, DPD received applications for approximately 15 micro-housing projects.
Micro-housing projects are generally comprised of apartment or townhome-style dwelling units, each of which contains several (often seven or eight) smaller living quarters clustered around a shared kitchen and laundry area. Each of the smaller living spaces within the dwelling unit is leased to an individual tenant. These spaces are typically 150 to 200 square feet in size and equipped with a kitchenette (refrigerator, microwave, sink) and private bathroom. Rent levels vary by location but are often in the range of $600 to $700 per month.
Developers have found Seattle offers a strong market for micro-housing, with completed projects leasing up quickly. Tenants often include students, service industry workers, and individuals who divide their time between Seattle and a residence in another location. Geographically, 52 percent of the projects are located on Capitol Hill and 30 percent in the University District, with the remainder spread throughout the city.
Because micro-housing is not well-defined in City codes it also may not be adequately regulated. Some of the issues and concerns the public has raised about Seattle’s growing stock of micro-housing include:
· Within micro-housing projects, DPD currently counts the several small living quarters that surround a common kitchen and laundry area as a single dwelling unit (e.g., one apartment with eight bedrooms and eight bathrooms). As a result, most micro-housing projects do not meet the threshold for design review. Normally the design review process also provides opportunities for neighbors to comment and offer input on proposed projects.
· DPD’s current practice of counting multiple living quarters within a micro-housing project as a single dwelling unit also complicates efforts to measure progress toward adopted growth targets in neighborhoods where micro-housing is located. It also can affect whether a proposed micro-housing project is subject to environmental review under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).
· Micro-housing may not be an appropriate building type for all multifamily residential zones.
· Micro-housing projects are generally designed to house 30 to 60 individuals; however, on-site parking is rarely provided.
· The high cost of this housing on a price-per-square-foot basis.
Along with the mentioned-earlier “microapartments” in The Junction, other projects in the works in West Seattle include a “boarding house” under construction on Avalon Way just east of 35th, another one a few blocks further northeast on Avalon, and one across from the Delridge Playfield area.