With microhousing debuting in West Seattle, it’s comment time for proposed city rules

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The city has formally gone public this week with its proposed new rules for so-called microhousing, though they won’t affect the two projects already well under way in West Seattle or two others in the works, which are:

*4548 Delridge (3 stories, 16 sleeping rooms, 2 “dwelling units,” top photo)
*3266 Avalon Way (5 stories, 56 sleeping rooms, 7 “dwelling units,” photo below)
*3050 Avalon Way (5 stories, 110 sleeping rooms, 14 “dwelling units,” not yet under construction)
*5949 California SW (4 stories, 38 sleeping rooms, 5 “dwelling units,” not yet under construction)

Those four are all on the citywide microhousing-projects list that is part of the package accompanying the proposal, which debuted in the most recent edition of the city’s twice-weekly Land Use Information Bulletin.

“Dwelling units” refers to how many shared kitchens the microhousing buildings have – up to eight “sleeping rooms” can share one. But the “dwelling unit” count is what has allowed many of these projects to move below the radar for design review among other things – it’s been difficult in some cases to comb through documentation to find that an “eight-unit” development is really a place where 80 people will live.

The design-review rules regarding microphousing would change as one of the following key points of the proposed ordinance (which you can see in its entirety here), although it does not appear the aforementioned West Seattle projects/proposals would have qualified for full design review – just the city’s streamlined administrative process.

The new rules also would specify that microhousing is not allowed in a single-family zone (even a building that would theoretically pencil out to one “dwelling unit”).

Another part of the proposal that’s likely to get attention: A requirement for 1 parking space for every 4 sleeping rooms in a microhousing development – unless it’s in an “urban center” or “station area overlay district,” or in an urban village and within 1,320 feet of a street with frequent transit service, in which case none would be required. 1 bicycle parking space would be required for every 4 sleeping rooms.

Also of note, in case you had wondered, the ordinance contains the official definition of different terminology used for this type of development:

“Congregate residence” means a use in which rooms or lodging, with or without meals, are provided for nine or more non-transient persons not constituting a single household, excluding single-family dwelling units for which special or reasonable accommodation has been granted.

And:

17. “Micro” means a room or rooms within micro-housing having all of the following characteristics:
a. contains 285 square feet or less;
b. contains a bathroom with a toilet, bathing facility, and sink;
c. does not contain a food preparation area or kitchen;
d. no sink is located outside of the bathroom within the micro.

The city is asking for comments on the proposed legislation by October 21st; this page on the Department of Planning and Development website shows how to comment. Documents related to the proposal are linked here.

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58 Replies to "With microhousing debuting in West Seattle, it's comment time for proposed city rules"

  • comment-avatar
    westseattledood October 9, 2013 (1:18 pm)

    Fabulous breakdown of the proposals TR. So helpful to all to have this reliable overview.

    Is the 1,320 feet from frequent transit simply the length of a block, or what? Also, how would “non-transient” be defined, I am wondering…a single person who has an individual lease? Are two people/couples disallowed in a single room or at the discretion of owners?

    The Delridge units seem to have gone up almost overnight…but perhaps I just haven’t driven by there much lately because of the road work.

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    kathleen October 9, 2013 (1:28 pm)

    Sounds like what used to be called a Flophouse. Is there a requirement for an onsite manager? Ballard sources tell me these places are quite a burden on the rest of the neighborhood.

  • comment-avatar
    enough October 9, 2013 (1:53 pm)

    edzachary Kathleen

  • comment-avatar
    coffee October 9, 2013 (2:07 pm)

    The Delridge location has been under construction for quite some time, about 4-5 months. I drive by it daily. I was wondering when they were delivering 6 shower stalls why so many for 2 smaller buildings. I for one am not a fan of these buildings popping up. Come on city government step up the process…..

  • comment-avatar
    West Seattle Since 1979 October 9, 2013 (2:15 pm)

    It says “non-transient”. Flophouses would be transient, wouldn’t they?

  • comment-avatar
    pjmanley October 9, 2013 (2:44 pm)

    Can anyone tell me what the price per square foot of these rentals are, and how match up against prevailing studio and 1 BR prices? My hunch is that the price of this microhousing, per square foot will be substantially higher by in a direct comparison.

  • comment-avatar
    Jason October 9, 2013 (2:45 pm)

    Awesome.
    .
    Will be “cool” and “hip” until one catches fire and a large loss of life occurs because of the high density resident-to-space ratio.
    .
    You think there’s only going to be one person per “sleeping room”?? Nonsense!! You can realistically increase those numbers by 50%

  • comment-avatar
    pjmanley October 9, 2013 (2:46 pm)

    Hey, why won’t it let me edit my typos?

  • comment-avatar
    datamuse October 9, 2013 (2:47 pm)

    They’re no more inherently transient than other rentals. I know quite a few people who are looking at them because they don’t spend much time at home and want to spend what they’d save in rent on other things.

  • comment-avatar
    imcoveredinbees October 9, 2013 (3:52 pm)

    Love the idea. Will be interesting to see them in action, in terms of management, etc. Good option if they are affordable and for lots of different lifestyles.

  • comment-avatar
    Pickering October 9, 2013 (3:56 pm)

    Unbelievable. And 1 parking space for every four sleeping rooms? Seriously?

    • comment-avatar
      WSB October 9, 2013 (4:00 pm)

      Only if they’re NOT built in an urban center/frequent transit/etc. area. For example, the 110-unit one proposed for 3050 Avalon has no parking in its plan now, and even under the new rules would not be required to have it – RapidRide is considered “frequent transit.”

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    Alki Bee October 9, 2013 (3:59 pm)

    “Congregate residence:” another term for slum. Too many people in too little space; safety, sanitation, privacy, noise and parking issues anticipated. Unrealistic to expect “micro room” residents not to cook; people with no suitable place to prepare or cook food will not give up eating; they’ll cook on hotplates or even charcoal grills indoors. Very suitable for people who can pool their money to rent a party place that they can trash. Sounds like a really bad idea on every level for the “residents” and the surrounding neighborhoods.

  • comment-avatar
    AN October 9, 2013 (4:04 pm)

    My only question – Why do they have to paint them with such ugly colors? Same thing with the low cost housing through out West Seattle….they make them stand out.

  • comment-avatar
    Heather October 9, 2013 (4:04 pm)

    Sounds like a good idea until the residents start stabbing each other over someone eating their Cheetos.

  • comment-avatar
    carole October 9, 2013 (4:09 pm)

    There are some on Capitol Hill and Portage Bay with rents ranging 525-675. Deposit of 500+, qualifying requirements pretty stringent, history of 12 mos prior rental history, etc. Doesn’t sound like such a deal for lower/modest incomes. I just googled “apodments seattle.”

  • comment-avatar
    WS native October 9, 2013 (4:27 pm)

    I think these types of projects are fabulous! I encourage anyone who thinks they are flophouses to actually go tour one. Many have stunning views and nice quartz countertops and finishes. It’s a great place for young people who have gotten their first job in the city and need an affordable place to live!

  • comment-avatar
    Penny L. October 9, 2013 (4:32 pm)

    They certainly are not one bit attractive. Affordable housing is so necessary in Seattle, a city of extremely high, in my opinion, property values. It would be nice to see some imagination in the architecture rather than simply a cheap looking box.

  • comment-avatar
    Paula Kennedy October 9, 2013 (4:35 pm)

    I am a busy professional who travels a lot. I am also successfully recovering from the recession, but still recovering. I am excited about a living scenario like this with a cost in this level. I am a 45 year old professional, not a transient.

  • comment-avatar
    Michelle October 9, 2013 (4:39 pm)

    I’m late to this game…sorry.

    TR, how is this legal? How long has this been legal?

    How can we stop future developments like this?

  • comment-avatar
    Diane October 9, 2013 (4:41 pm)

    Thanks for the great coverage; you sure saved me a ton of time searching for all the details
    ~
    one question; didn’t 3050 Avalon Way get raised to 7 stories?
    ~
    “Land Use Application to allow a seven story (two of the seven floors contain mezzanines), 14 unit apartment building containing 104 bedrooms in an environmentally critical area. No parking proposed.”

  • comment-avatar
    Thistle October 9, 2013 (4:50 pm)

    Outside of parking (an issue in general given the current state of multifamily development rules in Seattle), I would love to know what horrible burdens these buildings have placed on residential neighborhoods. Everything I have read so far about micro units already in place in Capitol Hill and Ballard have shown that they are predominantly rented by younger working professionals, retirees, and students. They are not flob houses, they do not have higher than average occurrences of emergency/police calls, and there have been no documented increases in crime/noise/litter in the neighborhoods there in. So in all honesty, what is the issue? Have my neighbors all this time seen me as a “burden” because of the small area I choose to live in?

    In regards to rent: while my studio is not necessarily a “micro” unit as I have my own kitchen and bathroom, it is only about 160 square feet. Yes, when penciled out, on a per square foot basis I pay a premium in comparison to a one bedroom. However, my overall rent is $650 for a nice, well-kept unit with a small entry that allows me a few plants and a chair in a good neighborhood close to markets, library, and other services. No way in this rental market will I ever be able to find a one bedroom even close to that rent that offers all of these amenities. Cost is relative.

  • comment-avatar
    grumpy October 9, 2013 (4:52 pm)

    NOT COOL you know what happens when there’s too many ants on the hill

  • comment-avatar
    sam-c October 9, 2013 (4:56 pm)

    I remember thinking this when I saw the first mention of the project on SW Avalon Way:
    ‘no parking for 100+ residents?- I feel sorry for all the houses in the SF5000 area between Avalon Way and the WS bridge….’

    sure there is rapid ride, but that doesn’t mean that ALL those people won’t have cars…I’m sure some of them will, especially since everyone thinks they will be rented by ‘professionals, students and retirees’

  • comment-avatar
    metrognome October 9, 2013 (5:07 pm)

    dood — believe it or not, I once researched the definition of a ‘block’ and there is no consistent answer; East Coast differs from West, etc. In this area, 1320 ft would be about 1.25 – 1.5 blocks; Metro used to space stops 2-3 blks apart so folks wouldn’t have to walk much more than a block. That has changed due to the safety issues and inefficiencies of stopping so often. RR stops are *much* farther apart. I gave up trying to find Metro’s service guidelines, but if you are truly bored or a real policy wonk …
    .
    http://metro.kingcounty.gov/planning/
    .
    See p. 4 of the city’s ‘complete streets checklist’ for a discussion of bus stop spacing (not directly related to microhousing, but everything is based on the city’s Comp Plan).
    .
    http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/completeStreets.htm

  • comment-avatar
    wetone October 9, 2013 (5:08 pm)

    Portland Or. is a couple years ahead of Seattle in the Microhousing type builds. If you talk to locals where they have been built in the Portland area they have nothing good to say about microhousing and are not happy about the problems that have been caused from them, parking being one of the biggest issues and the increased crowding of the transit system. Builders of these types of projects should be charged huge fees that would go to new and improved transit since these type of builds are basing there builds as being lived in by people using transit and not cars.

  • comment-avatar
    D I D October 9, 2013 (5:12 pm)

    The Delridge Way project started being built almost a year ago. For some reason they cannot seem to finish it. Seems like ten steps forward and twelve back. Appears like a whole bunch of fiascos with site drainage compliance. And the severely damaged section of Delridge Way in front of the place is of the builders doing so if you car was mangled a couple weeks ago when the crater opened up have your lawyer contact the owner for compensation.
    Of course the project has NO off street parking, so between the other mostly rental houses on that stretch of Delridge Way and the soccer mania across the street on the Delridge Playfield I expect parking conflict. The street grid down there is minimal so it isn’t like they can just ‘go around the block to park’. And yes, most if not all the tenants will have cars. Bet on it.

    If the behavior so far of the owner/builder is any indication, the place is warming up to be a nuisance property. Unless they are serious about screening tenants and managing it well. Thankfully, there is the excellent WA State Nuisance Law on the books should the owner/manager not be upstanding and play the ‘hands-off’ landlord game.

  • comment-avatar
    D I D October 9, 2013 (5:19 pm)

    @ Thistle – Regarding impacts, other than parking, which is a serious impact, the other issues you mention may be not be happening because there is a serious commitment on the part of the building owner/management to run a tight ship. If that doesn’t happen all bets are off. And, equating Pods on Capitol Hill or Ballard with Pods on Delridge Way is to ignore the long history of a_sho_e owner/managers that have plagued the Delridge for a long time.

  • comment-avatar
    Jenny October 9, 2013 (5:26 pm)

    I currently live on SW Avalon and parking has already become a nightmare with the construction up the road for the HUGE apartment building. We also have a lot of people that use the street as a park & ride spot, so they can jump on rapid ride. Can’t imagine what SW Avalon will turn into once the above mentioned buildings are finished. I worry for the many bicyclists that use this street as their route to get over to downtown. We will be moving to a different spot in West Seattle.

  • comment-avatar
    Trying! October 9, 2013 (5:27 pm)

    I am not against less expensive housing. I live in such a location. I do object to cheaply built and shoddy materials. There are a couple of early box style housing units around Alaska Junction and their cheap particle board siding is already rotting and looks horrible. The latest box buildings look like Soviet Bloc housing and they seem to thumb their noses at us by painting them Soviet gray, surrounded by concrete pavement?!

  • comment-avatar
    Genesee Hill October 9, 2013 (6:12 pm)

    Anyway you cut it, this new housing beats “Nickelsville”. It is refreshing that some folks will pay for a room…rather than being “freeloaders” leaning on the enablers. The same enablers that complain about this new housing, ‘cuz it might hinder parking in their neighborhood.

  • comment-avatar
    WD October 9, 2013 (8:19 pm)

    This sounds to me very much like the way people live in New York. It’s not transient, but more like renting a room… With perks.

    Part of me says it’s a great solution with 45% of the US population unable to afford basic necessities while another part of me wants to run screwing if Seattle is becoming New York, part II. I love visiting my sister there, but do not want to live there.

  • comment-avatar
    s knight October 9, 2013 (8:28 pm)

    The apodments in the UDistrict do have parking pressures, no doubt about it. There are many units, some built recently with very small single square footage requirements, some built a few years back with larger square ft. All are studio size with common kitchens. There are problems with trash and disposal. Bus Transit overload, I can’t speak too. Deposits are very high, with less than 50 percent return; however, rents are low, comparatively speaking…High density living is becoming the modern model. It reminds city dwellers of how much you must have to survive.

  • comment-avatar
    WTF October 9, 2013 (8:38 pm)

    Not to coin anyone’s phrase other than my own, but, “You put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig!”

    Shanty Town USA!!!!

  • comment-avatar
    ttt October 9, 2013 (8:52 pm)

    These are dorm rooms.
    I think these will bring down the property value of anything they are built next to…

  • comment-avatar
    CJ October 9, 2013 (8:56 pm)

    PJManley, that is a critical question that seems to be overlooked: per square foot,microhousing is extremely expensive. My 790sf apartment goes for about $1.50/sq, a microunit that’s 150sq for $500/mnth is $3.30/sq!! This microhousing makes my modest apartment seem like luxury living and it will become just that if we allow these buildings to be built. If I was charged what these residents are being asked to pay that would mean $2600/mnth! That would push me out of the city or into a microunit. Which would force me to give up my pets. And to think of sharing these units with even one other person? Not likely. Who are these units being built for? It is not for families or even couples. I foresee shelters being overfilled with pets that are given up or would have been adopted if a person had a reasonable amount of space for them, couples and families being pushed out of the city as larger apartments skyrocket in rent in response to these units. Saying they are affordable is like saying you can’t afford to eat out but if you are given a micro plate of the same meal it’s affordable. No it’s not! We should not tolerate being squeezed into tiny spaces like caged chickens. I for one have no interest in living as they do in Shenzhen.

  • comment-avatar
    pjmanley October 9, 2013 (10:21 pm)

    So, what I’m hearing is this: “Affordable” Microhousing is by far the most expensive rental housing in Seattle, measured by the square foot, running anywhere from 2.5 to 4 times the cost of average apartments. Do I have that right?

  • comment-avatar
    pjmanley October 9, 2013 (10:42 pm)

    And I’m thinking this: These microhousing buildings are in direct competition with affordable apartments. What builder won’t build these instead, when they are much cheaper and two, three or four times more profitable per square foot than regular apartments, where each unit has a bathroom and a kitchen. That will flatten or decrease the supply of regular apartments over time, forcing more and more people into micro units because a regular 1 br apt will eventually cost 2k per month, or more, due to lack of supply. The solution is not a moratorium, but to limit the number of these in direct proportion to how many new apartments are being built at any given time, to keep supplies in balance and allow people who choose micro-housing to continue to have that option. Developers and builders do it for the money, not to be saints or good neighbors. Let’s not forget that everyone needs “affordable” housing at some point, as the planet struggles to sustain us all.

  • comment-avatar
    bbuddy October 9, 2013 (10:48 pm)

    I have no personal experience with such housing arrangements — but it doesn’t sound like a good idea for most of the rest of the neighbors or neighborhood. While it might make sense for the people looking to live in such an arrangement — there should be some consideration for the people who already live in the area and are presently happy with the state of their block/neighborhood. Such unconventional housing being developed in what otherwise is a conventional and established residential neighborhood seems unethical if the current property owners have not been allowed a voice in the matter. It also seems like Horrible planning since there are not enough parking spaces and of course there is not enough room on the roads or especially not enough room on the West Seattle bridge to support such termite hills.
    Just my perceptions so far…. I feel so badly for all the people who have to change their current standard of living to accommodate a greedy developer.

  • comment-avatar
    jonnie Gilman October 10, 2013 (2:24 am)

    Flophouse, or halfway house model. So this is “affordable housing”? I wish our city planners would factor in the mental illness costs of having people living packed together with strangers. This could become a nightmare. On the bright side, though, the pharmaceutical companies are bound to profit from sales of psych meds.

  • comment-avatar
    Jacob October 10, 2013 (3:24 am)

    I really don’t get it… there is a pretty clear consensus that says we need more affordable housing options, yet every time there is a new construction project in West Seattle the majority of commenters on this blog cry NIMBY, demand lower density, tons of parking considerations, more expensive designs/construction materials, etc. What am I missing here? What is your solution to stabilize rental prices if you don’t think its a good idea to build micro-housing like this?

    I really hope this is just a vocal minority speaking out, because I think these efficiency units are swell and we need a lot more of them on the peninsula.

  • comment-avatar
    anonyme October 10, 2013 (7:04 am)

    bbuddy, exactly right. Why should homeowners have so little say in how developers impact the neighborhoods they’ve invested in? DPD does not listen to homeowners. People buy homes not just based on the single structure, but the atmosphere of the entire neighborhood. These developments place an unreasonable strain on the infrastructure of our area, and – they’re UGLY.

  • comment-avatar
    BornInWestSeattle October 10, 2013 (7:37 am)

    With all due respect Jacob, profit and greed are the only reasons why microhousing is being built. The rental cost per square foot is exhorbident, guaranteeing their ongoing profits.

  • comment-avatar
    Marty October 10, 2013 (9:33 am)

    Can you say “Chicken Coop” ???

  • comment-avatar
    Hoppy Daze October 10, 2013 (10:43 am)

    I feel an important element of the micro-housing debate must involve poverty and community with higher volumes of poverty. While I can understand the justification from creating micro-housing in Ballard, Capitol Hill, Fremont, Green Lake etc. where housing demands and cost are high, in poor communities this is not the case. In communities like Delridge, Rainer Beach, and South Park with high levels of poverty, housing is affordable, and more low cost housing is not needed. These communities need stability and more importantly need social issues address caused by years of neglect including infrastructure and basic necessity (e.g. grocery stores) deficiencies, limited community employment opportunities, along with public safety issues. The addition of more poor into these communities via micro housing or other housing opportunities is grossly irresponsible and will only makes the deficits worse.

  • comment-avatar
    Jacob October 10, 2013 (11:13 am)

    Rental prices are a function of supply and demand. They are charging a high cost per square foot because that is what the market will bare. Even with all the construction going on in the area, there is still demand for much, much more before prices will begin to stabilize.

    Another thing to keep in mind about this sticker shock is that these micro-housing units are new construction, and people will always be willing to pay more for that. 20 years from now when these units they will seem much more affordable.

  • comment-avatar
    A October 10, 2013 (11:13 am)

    The future site on CA and Raymond was sub-divided and they built 3 townhomes at the back of the lot. Those are now all for sale – just under $400k each. Interestingly, they don’t plan to knock down house in the front and build the microhousing for another 6 months or so. That’s conveniently after they sell the townhomes. It’s pretty sneaky if you ask me. There goes the property value for those poor people that buy those townhomes. We are not happy at all about this going up.

  • comment-avatar
    sgs October 10, 2013 (12:22 pm)

    Someone earlier mentioned the Soviet Union….. Ask someone who lived in this type of shared housing there with strangers over the long term how it worked. It didn’t.

  • comment-avatar
    pjmanley October 10, 2013 (12:33 pm)

    Jacob: You might as well ask “Who wants to keep a nice area nice?” (NIMBYS?). Radical departures from existing building codes and living arrangements, developed through years of planning and community participation invariably lead to unforeseen consequences that fall on the community to endure. It ain’t NIMBY; it’s “Wait a second!” It’s no way to run a building department or city, where exemptions are handed out left and right for meaningless trade-offs for the community, mostly by city employees who rarely visit W.S. and don’t live here. Everyone wants affordable housing, and our area has had more than it’s fair share for decades, with plenty more on the way. But caging as many people as possible in the tiniest space possible, in an area where the infrastructure already can’t support the population, is not the optimal solution to this problem when the end result is to triple or quadruple square foot rents. Guess what rent on a 1BR will be in a couple years when micro-housing tenants have firmly established a floor of $3 to $4 per square foot? It is supply and demand alright, and the proliferation of these because of their high profit yields will choke off and displace the supply of other options. Like payday loan sharks, these units remind me of the old saying, “the poor man always pays twice.”

  • comment-avatar
    CJ October 10, 2013 (2:31 pm)

    Jacob, there was recently an article (I’d cite the source if I could find it!)that explained why Seattle’s rental market wasn’t stabilizing despite all of the development. In a nutshell it is because most new construction is not affordable housing but luxury apartments.

  • comment-avatar
    SMH October 10, 2013 (2:50 pm)

    The parking or lack thereof for the number of dwellers is going to cause a serious problem on Avalon. There is already very limited street parking currently. Even adding a few cars will be an issue. It is of serious concern that parking does not have to be provided. The City really needs to address this issue before continuing the endless permitting of condos and micro housing units in West Seattle.

  • comment-avatar
    TF October 11, 2013 (8:59 am)

    Tighter design standards should be implemented but these units do provide price point housing that for profit and non profit are not delivering to the market place. if they did the units wouldn’t fill up in a matter of weeks. obviously the residents like the units and that seems lost amongst the complainers that do nothing to solve housing shortages themselves.

  • comment-avatar
    pjmanley October 11, 2013 (11:32 am)

    Actually, TF, we’re trying to maintain the quality of life in the neighborhood where these places are being built, for the residents who choose them and will become our neighbors. “Smart density” takes account of existing needs and conditions to maximize the number of living units with the least amount of impact on the neighborhood. Exemptions tend to undermine that. If the neighborhoods become a tangled mess of traffic congestion and overloaded infrastructure that torpedoes the quality of life for all who live here, how is that a good thing? And what are you doing personally to to solve the housing shortages, unlike we “complainers?”

  • comment-avatar
    stable October 13, 2013 (7:22 pm)

    Watch for detachment that allows and encourages loneliness.The notions about micro living could indeed be a result of demand?
    By whom?
    Interrupted projects are often ones that fail to “pencil out.”
    Investors could be at the root of ugly stages. The price is the decline of contact, if only to say, “Hello, how is it going?.”

    Boardinng houses historically appeared as passing stages of maturing neighborhoods and emerging cities. As such, social expectations insisted on manners and decent food. These units will be slim Jim dormitory substitutes for on the move low paid transient workers? Could happen. And do these living arrangements encourage recreational drug traffic, even on a small scale? Perhaps serious questions await well meaning planners. And will success of these units drive up rental prices across the region? Could happen.
    Could I recommend this conceptual project? Sorry. No.

  • comment-avatar
    Lois Wilson October 15, 2013 (8:18 am)

    Who will be responsible for maintaining the kitchen and other common areas?
    I think it would be possible for this to become a slum dwelling.

  • comment-avatar
    M October 21, 2013 (11:30 am)

    Just wait until the govenment (under Section 8) starts renting some of these units out and housing transients in them. IF your house is near one I’d say time to sell while the market is still hot

  • comment-avatar
    nyhopi October 21, 2013 (3:19 pm)

    TERRIBLE thank you Mike McQuinn and everyone else involved. The folks that are responsible should be forced to live next door to this project!

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