While “microhousing” – residential buildings with up to 8 individually rentable sleeping units sharing each kitchen – is old news for some neighborhoods in Seattle, it’s still somewhat new here in West Seattle, with several projects in the works but none yet completed. Today, two bits of news – first, a proposed microhousing building has revised its plan, triggering an official notice from the city today; second, we have toplines from Department of Planning and Development director Diane Sugimura‘s appearance at the Southwest District Council meeting last night.
First, the revised project at 3050 SW Avalon Way, currently the overgrown lot shown above: The revision notice says it is now proposed as a seven-story, 102-bedroom, no-parking building. It was proposed for four stories when we last mentioned it in March. The revision triggers a new comment period, through June 19th; here’s the form you can use to comment.
Ahead, what DPD director Sugimura told the district council last night – and the meeting attendee whose group is opposed to more regulation:
Some at the meeting were unsure what “microhousing” meant, so Sugimura started with something of a primer, explaining that the city allows up to eight people per housing “unit,” so developers started creating projects with one common kitchen for multiple units. She added, “I believe they are affordable housing that is being provided by the private sector rather than using levy money and all that … they tend to rent between $500-$700/bedroom, you don’t get a lot of space and it’s not for everybody, but if you only have (that much) for housing and you don’t want a roommate or to share a house or apartment or move further out and have transportation expenses, there are a number of people who find these serve a purpose for a time in their life.”
The city’s been dealing with concerns including that these projects were hard to detect because the plans were being filed with only a mention of how many “units” – each kitchen area counting for one unit, even if it was serving up to eight individually rentable sleeping rooms – they had, while developers were applying for tax exemptions (documents that are harder for the public to access) listing the total number of sleeping units. So for example, the newly revised Avalon Way project mentioned above is on the books as “14 units” with “102 bedrooms.”
Last week, three City Councilmembers issued a memo voicing their concerns about microhousing and what they would like to see DPD do; Sugimura says, “most of these were things we were working on.” Read the memo here.
SWDC co-chair Karl de Jong expressed concern about the concept in general, saying it sounded somewhat like “tenement housing.” Sugimura disagreed with that characterization, but in the end, said that challenging the existence of this classification of housing would be a political matter to take up with the council.
Her department’s new proposed rules, she said, will be proposed for a special meeting of the council’s Planning, Land Use, Sustainability Committee on June 28th.
But projects in the pipeline now – including the most recent proposal reported here, at 59xx California SW – will be reviewed under current rules, not the upcoming proposals. (Other West Seattle microhousing-to-be of which we’re aware includes under-construction buildings on Avalon by the 35th/Avalon 7-11 and on Delridge.)
The microhousing discussion veered off into the issue of whether developers should be paying impact fees to make sure infrastructure such as parks and transportation is adequate for the new residents that come to live in their projects. That, too, is a political issue, not anything that Sugimura can directly control.
Before the meeting ended, Roger Valdez, representing the advocacy group Smart Growth Seattle – previously heard from on the issue of small-lot development (which came up earlier in the meeting) – tried to take the floor to talk about their reaction to the councilmembers’ microhousing proposals. Co-chair de Jong did not allow Valdez to speak, as he was not officially on the agenda, but he did drop off printouts of his group’s response to the councilmembers’ memo; you can read it on the Smart Growth Seattle website.