The Next Housing “Emergency”

Apodments

Earlier this year, the Seattle City Council set a bad precedent by using emergency legislation to stop development of small-lot homes.  The Capitol Hill Community Council has now asked the City Council for more emergency legislation to block development.  Their target? Apodments.

Apodments are a form of townhouse development where each townhome “unit” is broken into several rooms for rent.  The result is very small, inexpensive units and high density.  Several have been built in Capitol Hill, which makes sense due to this neighborhood’s low-rise zoning and great walkability (apodments generally don’t come with parking spaces). 

The Capitol Hill Community Council argues that Capitol Hill has met development goals and implies they don’t want any new development.  They also claim that apodments violate the “neighborhood context” and that they have “undefined environmental impacts”.

I notice that both of these reasons are vague at best.  “Neighborhood context” is purely a matter of opinion.  I don’t live on Capitol Hill, but it sure seems to me that if low to mid-rise dense housing fits any neighborhood’s context it would be that neighborhood.  But the term is vague enough that it could be describing anything.  Are the units too brightly colored?  Are they using wood siding instead of brick?  Are the intended residents too poor?  “Undefined environmental impact” is even worse.  Bacon has undefined environmental impact – should we expect the next emergency legislation to ban bacon?  

Of course, what they really want is design review and SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) reporting.  These two processes significantly add to the cost and timeline of projects, which is why buildings this small are exempted.  In the end I can’t see how SEPA would substantially change these projects, and design review often makes only minor changes like requiring expensive facades.  It’s hard to believe it’s in the city’s interest to require low-income residents to pay for brick siding, and that not doing so constitutes an emergency.

My view is that the real emergency is finding a way to provide affordable housing within the city, and to add new residents here rather than sending them off to the suburbs and beyond.




Comments

  1. spoons says

    I live on the Hill down the street from one of these and the issue is that they aren’t charging very much less than “normal” apartments on the same street ($600 a month for one) considering their size. I’m afraid that this will signal to the landlords in the neighborhood that they can get away with even higher rent increases than they already are. This would pretty much render the neighborhood unaffordable for me and I believe others like me (people with decent jobs that don’t happen to be with Microsoft, Amazon, etc) so I would have to live in another neighborhood and begin driving to work again.

    Of course competition from these studios may decrease the cost since there will be a higher supply but I am skeptical that anyone will view apodments as being anywhere close to equivalent good so they will probably just signal they can get away with the even higher price point.

    • djw says

      This comment is economically illiterate. Do you really think landlords haven’t paid some attention to how much money they can reasonably charge for rent? Why?

    • Chris I says

      New construction is always going to be more expensive than existing housing stock. You can’t really build “new” affordable housing, but allowing the construction of more housing in an area will help control prices.

      • Charles says

        How is it that new “afford-ably priced” housing can be found in the hinterlands of the county that is cheaper to rent than a vintage apt on Capitol Hill? Of course, you pay in the time and cost of commuting but the question remains. What is the key difference if new construction is cheaper elsewhere? My answer is the value of land.

      • Stephen F says

        Seriously? Fremont has been ruined??? Man, if it’s been ruined, please send it to Greenwood instead. I’ll happily take it. Meanwhile, 6th Ave in Tacoma largely desolate during the daytime. Moderate density would increase the value and diversity of business there.

      • John Bailo says

        Really, what amazes me, is that not many others have adopted the Kentian lifestyle. 2 bedrooms, around $800. With lots of greenspace, bike lanes, bus and rail (Kent Station nearby) transit, community colleges, ethnic delicacies, a diverse multicultural area.

        If you guys had any sense your heads, you’d live next door to me.

        http://www.thesomersetapts.com/

        By the way, mention my name and I get a finder’s fee!

      • Mike Orr says

        There are two suburban lifestyles. One, an apartment district next to a shopping center. Two, a single-family house in a 100% residential neighborhood (with occasional isolated apartment buildings here and there). Mixed-use neighborhoods like East Hill and Crossroads are roughly similar to Northgate or the West Seattle Junction, although walking distances are longer and buses fewer. They are borderline urban neighborhoods. But if somebody says they live the “Kentian lifestyle”, it’s generally understood as the second type, residential-only areas with large-lot houses. That’s what the urbanists are against. Saying they’re against mixed-use urbanish neighborhoods is a false dichotomy; that’s not “suburbia”. It’s a somewhat walkable neighborhood, and one can hope it will grow up and densify over the next decade or two.

        I could conceivably live in such a neighborhood if I had little interest in things or people outside the immediate supermarkets/restaurants/Fred Meyer. Some people may not want anything more, or at least in some periods of their life they don’t. And a bicycle certainly helps for expanding the immediate area in suburbia. But if you want to go to things and see people in lots of different places — well, it depends on where those things and people are, but most likely a lot of them are in the city, and several of them require transferring downtown. That’s where living in the city makes a difference. For instance, most of the things I go to are in Seattle, and I have relatives in Bellevue. So if I lived in Kent East Hill, it’s an automatic 1 1/2 hour overhead for every trip beyond just getting groceries or going to the nearest library. And I’d have to take one of those evil peak-express buses to work, oh noes! (Although I would transfer to Sounder and then another bus.)

      • John Bailo says

        Actually Kent has a great many employers. I looked at tmp planning estimates once and nearly half of all transit trips that began in Kent ended in Kent.

        I’m not sure what you are talking about when you say that “everyone” is making 90 minute trips everywhere. Maybe you are thinking of all the Microsoft employees living in dense Ballard condos that jam up the 520 each and every day.

        Kent and its neighborhoods are very self sufficient and there are many community activities.

      • Bellinghammer says

        Bailo,

        There are still a great many neighborhoods in the city for less than $1,000. The Central District, Mt Baker, Columbia City, Greenwood, Crown Hill, Maple Leaf, etc etc. Rent drops very quickly within a few blocks of the high-price zones of downtown, Pike-Pine, Broadway, Belltown, Fremont, Wallingford, central Ballard etc.

      • Orv says

        The tradoffs are, a) the lower-priced neighborhoods also have more crime (a friend of mine just moved from Seattle to Marysville because he was tired of drug dealers camping outside his door) and b) for less than $1000 you won’t get a place with parking, so you won’t be able to go anywhere outside the city.

      • Seattleite says

        Orv, for $1075 (including utilities) we were able to get a newly renovated, spacious two bedroom apartment in the heart of Columbia City, with as much parking as needed. The parking situation is unique as more than a few tenants are blind (so no car ownership), I am assuming b/c the Washington Department of Services for the Blind is just up the street.

        No crime issues since we moved in. We regularly walk around the neighborhood after dark and have never felt unsafe.

    • Mike Orr says

      One thing to remember is the rent includes utilities and broadband Internet. So that’s $100-150 you’re not paying compared to regular apartments.

  2. daniel says

    Note, I am not necessarily advocating for SEPA / DR, only pointing out some of the ramifications. Adding SEPA and Design Review would certainly add much more time to the process, but the bigger issue for the developer is the added level of scrutiny from regulators as well as residents, and resulting costs. SEPA would likely require parking be provided (as counter-intuitive as that sounds) based on neighborhood parking utilization and the number of units provided, even if the land use code states otherwise. But, the SEPA threshold was dramatically raised a few months ago (from more than 4 units to 200 units), so there would need to be a specific apodment trigger to require SEPA review.

    Perhaps more onerous is the potential scrutiny from the community at DR meetings and, with more attention, the possibility of appealing a project’s MUP. I am not certain what the precise process is for apodments, but Seattle has a ridiculously low standard for filing and acceptance of an appeal. Anyone can file an appeal and delay a project for a month plus. Add legitimate complaints and money to pay nominal legal fees to the mix, and a project can be delayed for a substantially longer period of time. If the approval process for these projects requires a public review period or increases the time for review and comment, this would dramatically increase the likelihood of an apodment development being appealed.

    Added review and approval time, potential legal fees, increased construction costs resulting from parking or less rentable space would significantly alter the equation on apodments if only by adding much more uncertainty and risk.

  3. mic says

    There was a movie in the ’50′s about the Pod People.
    I suspect a copy is now floating around Broadway somewhere.

  4. djw says

    This is disgusting and utterly unjustifiable abuse of power. It’s indefensible for anyone who holds liberal values (options for the poor, reduction of sprawl) or conservative values (free markets, private property). That’s why opponents resort to vague, meaningless nonsense like “neighborhood context”. These people should be ashamed of themselves. Disgusting.

  5. Andrew Brick says

    Personally, I find the picture shown to be hideous, but that’s just me. More constructively, “violating neighborhood context” is a matter of opinion, but I think less so than is argued here. It is possible to establish a context based on existing housing types, zoning, and lot use; it is likewise easy to argue that a 15-floor apartment building set among SFHs is out of context. In the case of apodments, the argument is not as easy to make, but it is still possible.

    A previous apodment post at STB (linked from this article) stated: “The thing about local opposition to apodments that discredits it almost immediately is that the opponents are saying that the potential renter of an apodment doesn’t really want to live there. If that’s true, that potential renter won’t rent an apodment.” That last statement isn’t true at all – people often live where they can or where they have to. The creation of a substantial number of non-home homes (which is what apodments are), has the potential to degrade the overall quality of life in an area. To me, this is what Capitol Hill is concerned about. Is a moratorium warranted? Perhaps not. Is it worth paying more attention to? Probably.

    Now, this next comment will sound a bit over the top: A neighborhood (or a city) full of studios w/o kitchens is a bridge too far in the fight for greater density; it conjures up images of Chinese work-live communities or at least commune-style living.

    • Brent says

      A city where everyone is required to pay rent for a parking stall is a bridge too far, and yet we have crossed it.

      • Nathanael says

        “A city where everyone is required to pay rent for a parking stall”
        … *whether or not they have a car*. Yeah. Most cities have crossed this boundary with mandatory parking minimums.

    • Mike Orr says

      Oh noes! The apodments are invading and will swallow us up! What will happen to LolKatts??? Apodments will only ever have a small market niche because there’s a limited number of people willing to live in such small spaces, especially when regular apartments cost just a couple hundred dollars more. (My friend moved out of a vintage Capitol Hill studio last week, and it was advertising another studio for $850.) But apodments provide an important niche that has otherwise been ignored: people who care more about cost, location, and flexible leases than about size and parking.

      Ten or even twenty apodment buildings on Capitol Hill cannot create enough impact to degrade the neighborhood, nor could five in Fremont or Columbia City. Neighborhoods aren’t that fragile.

    • djw says

      The creation of a substantial number of non-home homes (which is what apodments are), has the potential to degrade the overall quality of life in an area.

      The “non-home homes” line is nonsense. It’s a different kind of home; home for people who have a different set of wants and needs from the space they live in than you do. That’s OK–we all don’t need to live the same lifestyle! And “degrade overall quality of life” for people who live in their normal sized apartments is just meaningless as well without explaining how it will happen. There are a number of intermediate steps in between “living near people who value square footage less than I do” and “degrading the overall quality of life in the neighborhood.”

      it conjures up images of Chinese work-live communities

      Raising the spectre of authoritarian regimes to argue for using the coercive power of the state to restrict freedom of lifestyle choice? I admire your chutzpah, if nothing else.

      • Andrew Brick says

        I’m certainly not arguing for the elimination of apodments or dictating a certain lifestlye, just a balance – the same way people argue for balancing SFHs with higher-density construction. Regarding my comment about “degrading quality of life,” I don’t think it’s that far out there to argue that increasing the stock of “homes” without their own kitchens lowers a standard. The same could be said for bathrooms. I don’t know, maybe it doesn’t “lower” the standard of living, maybe it just “changes” it. But the development of apodments (without kitchens) indicates that either 1) some people value having their own kitchen less than others, or 2) a certain segment of society (including the developers) believe that not having a kitchen is an acceptable standard for a “home.” At some point, someone may decide the same thing for bathrooms. Are we a city that wants to say, “Come live and work in the great city of Seattle, where you can live affordably!* (*requires sharing a kitchen and bathroom with your neighbors)”

        Check these: (330 sqft. in Hong Kong) http://www.wimp.com/apartmenttransforms/
        (260 sqft. in Barcelona) http://www.wimp.com/infinitespaces/

        Those are good spaces. Apodments…not so much. Doesn’t seem like it has to take up much more room to put kitchens in all the apodments (eliminating the space needed for a common kitchen and the contract cleaner) — about all they need over what most seem to already have is a stove/oven. For me, this would make them a much more acceptable option (not just for my tastes, but for a community’s values — not lowering the standard of what is considered acceptable for a home).

        And on that note, why didn’t the designers just do that? It wouldn’t add much cost, and might actually decrease it in the long-term. Does regulation increase if each apodment has a “real” kitchen?

        Link to the Capitol Hill Community Council resolution: http://capitolhillcommunitycouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Whereas.pdf

      • djw says

        I don’t think it’s that far out there to argue that increasing the stock of “homes” without their own kitchens lowers a standard.

        Please tell me why. The implication would seem to be that people who live without a private kitchen in their home are likely to behave in a way that decreases the quality of life of their neighbors. I have no idea why you believe that, or why I should. Nothing in either of your comments provides a clue.

        I don’t know, maybe it doesn’t “lower” the standard of living, maybe it just “changes” it.

        Yes, but only for the people who choose to live there. No one’s taking away your kitchen. Private kitchens are like parking spaces, in a way: most people want/need them, some don’t, and that’s no reason to write laws that force everyone to pay for them.

        But the development of apodments (without kitchens) indicates that either 1) some people value having their own kitchen less than others, or 2) a certain segment of society (including the developers) believe that not having a kitchen is an acceptable standard for a “home.”

        Yes. Again, so what? Let people decide what they consider an acceptable standard, as long as there’s no obvious or clear threat to public health, which no one seems to be alleging here.

        Are we a city that wants to say, “Come live and work in the great city of Seattle, where you can live affordably!* (*requires sharing a kitchen and bathroom with your neighbors)”

        I wish there were more affordable, traditional housing in core neighborhoods, too, but that’s really not what’s at stake here. Core Seattle neighborhoods are expensive because lots of people want to live in them. Nothing about the development of Apodments change that, but it does offer people with a different set of priorities than you the opportunity to pay in space rather than money to live in desirable locations.

        Those are good spaces. Apodments…not so much. Doesn’t seem like it has to take up much more room to put kitchens in all the apodments (eliminating the space needed for a common kitchen and the contract cleaner) — about all they need over what most seem to already have is a stove/oven. For me, this would make them a much more acceptable option (not just for my tastes, but for a community’s values — not lowering the standard of what is considered acceptable for a home).

        Again, why do you think that because having a private kitchen is important to you, it must be important to everyone? I know a number of people who barely use their kitchen. They’re people with a lot of disposable income, not much time, and a preference for going out to eat. They’re normal humans, like you and I in many ways, and they don’t seem to degrade the quality of living in their neighborhoods as far as I can tell. Your argument is that we should use the coercive power of the state to force people to pay for them when they don’t want to. You also insinuate that it’s “reasonable” to believe that people who would choose to not pay for a private kitchen are somehow bad people who will harm a neighborhood, but you’ve given no reason for anyone to believe it.

      • Mike Orr says

        The size of the kitchen matters too. I viewed a 1970s apartment in the U-district with a kitchen counter the size of a refrigerator top, and another with a “bar sink” that belonged in a ship’s galley. I could not cook real meals in such a kitchen, so I’d be forced to eat out more than is healthful or affordable. But buildings with shared kitchens often have large kitchens to compensate. I don’t know about apodments specifically, but the rooming houses in the U-District have large shared kitchens often with multiple stoves and full-sized refrigerators. So it makes a difference whether the microwave and shoebox refrigerator in your room is just an auxiliary or the only thing.

        On the other hand, there are people who can live with a microwave, toaster oven, and galley sink, and are building their own tiny houses the size of a micro-apartment. So there’s that too.

      • Andrew Brick says

        djw – “The implication would seem to be that people who live without a private kitchen in their home are likely to behave in a way that decreases the quality of life of their neighbors.”

        I didn’t mean to imply that – woops. I’m talking about the quality of life *internal* to an apodment — the quality of life of a resident of a home without a kitchen.

        djw – “You also insinuate that it’s “reasonable” to believe that people who would choose to not pay for a private kitchen are somehow bad people who will harm a neighborhood, but you’ve given no reason for anyone to believe it.”

        I really didn’t mean to insinuate that at all, and don’t believe that myself. (Are you projecting? :) Nothing I’ve posted was meant to imply anything about the quality of life external to the apodment (except in terms of an aggregate quality of life of a city filled with apodments). Anyway, you’ve made a point that some people don’t want or need kitchens – that’s a fair point (but apodments’ target audience doesn’t have a lot of disposable income and can’t necessarily afford to dine out a lot).

        What we ought to be able to agree on is that apodments offer more in terms of “location per rent-dollar paid,” but less in terms of space and amenities. That’s a natural trend as density increases. I guess I’m just worried about a potential rapid change in what is considered acceptable accommodation for new construction projects, as well as a city that accepts a 90 sqft. room with a toilet, sink, and shower as a normal and perfectly reasonable “home.” That said, like Mike Orr posted, apodments fill a niche. They’re not horrible things, and they’re better than slums. So a number of them isn’t bad. It’s “how many?” that’s the question. Should we leave that to a market that in all likelihood will trend to the least common denominator?

      • djw says

        But if you don’t believe those things, how on earth is it reasonable to suggest that apodments will “degrade the overall quality of life in the neighborhood,” as your initial comment suggested? If you’re suggesting that people who choose to live in apodments will have a degraded quality of life, and it’s therefore reasonable to ban/limit them to to protect potential apodment renters from their own folly, I can’t just can’t agree. Adult human beings should be given the freedom to choose to pay for a private kitchen or not, just as they should be given the freedom to pay for a parking space or not. I just don’t see your paternalism here in a more positive light than the Seattle Times saying we should force developers near light rail stations to provide parking spaces for every unit at the renter’s expense. Adults are capable of making these kinds of decisions. (And if they decide they chose incorrectly, they can move! Flexible leases!)

        Should we leave that to a market that in all likelihood will trend to the least common denominator?

        I don’t know what you mean by least common denominator here, but yes, I’m perfectly comfortable to leave it to the market how many renters want to pay for private kitchens. Like most here, I suspect apodments will remain a niche market, and if developers build “too many” of them they’ll change strategy because there’s a limited number of people who want to live in them. But I don’t have some pre-set notion of how much square feet people “should” have in their living units, or what percentage of renters “should” pay for private kitchens. I’m not a libertarian or anything, but this seems like a pretty sensible thing to let the market sort out. Why not?

      • Mike Orr says

        So maybe we should talk about how many apodments is enough, how many is too much, and what the minimum standards for micro-apartments should be. But if you’re worrying about nightmare scenarios, you also have to chart the path from here to there. If there’s no path it won’t happen. For instance, house prices in Seattle could double or triple like New York and San Francisco, and that could cause people who wouldn’t otherwise live in a micro-apartment to change their mind. But you also have to look at what else would have to be true in order to make that scenario realistic. If one owner or several owners doubled their rents, prospective tenants would just blow them off and go elsewhere. General housing prices are most affected by Boeing employment, Amazon employment, whether another company like Amazon appears, etc. So you’d have to expect a drastic change in Seattle’s jobs profile, and if it did happen it might fully explain a market shift to micro-apartments. But without that, I have a hard time seeing how a large (rather than moderate) increase in apodments is possible. Isn’t Calhoun the only developer building them? When you start seeing other developers joining in and it becomes a standard housing type (as the Seattle townhouse did a decade ago), then its growth will increase. But if it’s just a Calhoun experiment, it’s not that big a deal.

      • Andrew Brick says

        djw – I’m taking a big picture view here, and upon examining my argument, I do think it’s blowing concerns out of proportion. But let me see if I can explain what I was originally thinking. Imagine a hypothetical situation in which an entire neighborhood’s accommodation consisted of small rooms without private bathrooms or private kitchens. In the context of a city in which that wasn’t the norm, it’s reasonable to look at this particular neighborhood and say its residents have a lower — or at least a different — quality of life (because they share bathing and cooking facilities with other people). Does that make sense?

        So in general, once developers are allowed to do a certain thing, they will. Let’s say that I build some apartments that don’t have running water. I mean, it’s not absolutely necessary to have running water to live – you can buy bottled water, etc. Nearly no one would rent my apartments, but I’d bet a sweet buck someone would, especially if the rent was really low. So if I were allowed to do that, I just might. And if I were able to rent out all of my units, I might build another building with no running water. And someone else might, too. And then we’d have a growing stock of housing without running water, and the overall quality of life of the community would decrease as a result.

        Now, that’s a more extreme example, but a kitchen, for most people, is a vital part of a home. If the apodment model is successful, we will have a growing stock of housing without private kitchens, reducing (proportionally) the stock of housing with private kitchens. On the one hand, that’s fine, as long as the market supports it. On the other hand, the market is almost *bound* to support it. I would wager the market would support an even further reduction in floor space, the elimination of a private bathroom, a single wall socket, no installed lighting, and a plethora of other things — that’s what I meant by “least common denominator.” (Small side-note: I hate not having any installed lighting in a living room, but very few apartments have any, so I have to suck it up and get an apartment w/o that feature.) A person will choose to live in a 20 sqft room if the only alternative for them is the street, or if they REALLY want to live in that particular location. But would we call that a home? Do we want to strip away features from dwelling units and have that become the norm? Is that the direction in which we want to move?

        Clearly, apodments aren’t going to take over the city, which is why I said at the beginning of this post that the concerns I’ve expressed are overblown. But I do think that if the apodment became the only reasonably affordable housing option in Seattle, the city would have a difficult time attracting people. Maybe I’m wrong.

      • Mike Orr says

        The law requires water, heat, a stove, a refrigerator, a bathroom, hot water, and electricity. These things can be shared but that can’t simply be omitted.

      • Andrew Brick says

        Thanks, Mike. It was a rhetorical example. And you proved my point – that the law does require some things.

      • djw says

        So in general, once developers are allowed to do a certain thing, they will.

        But this is obviously nonsense. Your “least common denominator” theory is rather overwhelmingly disproved by existing reality. The vast majority of apartments being built around the city provide far more space and more amenities than the law currently requires. This is for the rather obvious reason that people want to and are willing to pay for them. I can’t imagine why you think this is going to change. Developers are currently allowed to build much smaller units than they are actually building. So your core empirical premise is just obviously, demonstrably wrong.

        But I do think that if the apodment became the only reasonably affordable housing option in Seattle, the city would have a difficult time attracting people. Maybe I’m wrong.

        But in the unlikely scenario in which this occurs, developers will change strategy, converting to traditional apartments, because there’s a demand for them that’s not being met. Why you seem to be presuming that developers don’t respond to market demand I have no idea.

      • djw says

        you proved my point – that the law does require some things.

        If that’s your point, you should have no problem with Apodment developments, as they conform with the law. I’ve never suggested there should be no legal minimum; in fact, I’ve repeatedly stated that a good baseline for the legal minimum should revolve around basic public health standards–running water and refrigerators are obviously important here. To place make mandatory private kitchens or parking spaces part of the legal minimum is to tell people who don’t drive, or don’t cook much and don’t mind sharing a kitchen, that they should be forced by law to spend money on something they don’t want because you enjoy living that way. Nothing you’ve said has made this proposition seem any less appallingly anti-freedom than it first appeared to be.

      • Andrew Brick says

        djw – I do tend to agree with most of what you say, and point taken about developers exceeding legal requirements. Would you characterize the removal of a private kitchen as exceeding legal requirements to a greater extent, or would you say it is a step toward meeting only the bare minimum legal requirements?

        You said, “I’ve repeatedly stated that a good baseline for the legal minimum should revolve around basic public health standards–running water and refrigerators are obviously important here.”

        Why refrigerators?

      • djw says

        The scaling of affordable refrigeration technology to home units is perhaps the single most significant technological contribution to public health since indoor plumbing. The reduction in foodborne illness was immediate and significant, and is correlated with longer lifespans.

      • Andrew Brick says

        We’re getting a bit off-topic, but to the best of my knowledge, refrigerators aren’t required by law, so you’d better get right on that. :)

        And really, thanks for the debate. I mean, I don’t come here to spout off my opinions with a closed mind. I come here to get exposure to ideas, educate myself, and debate some stuff. Unlike many people, my opinions can actually be changed with reasonable debate. :)

      • djw says

        Would you characterize the removal of a private kitchen as exceeding legal requirements to a greater extent, or would you say it is a step toward meeting only the bare minimum legal requirements?

        I’m not sure I understand the question. I suppose in a sense it is a “step toward meeting only the bare minimum.” But, again, so what? People should be able to buy as much or as little over the legal minimum as they find valuable. But is your implication that this is a slippery slope–that allowing apodments is a kind of foot in the door for developers to build nothing but cheap housing with as few amenities as possible? Again, there is no reason to believe that. The City of Seattle contains lots of people with money, who want to spend it on nice places to live, to varying degrees. In your worldview, developers don’t want to give it to them–they want to sell everyone Dickensian slums. In my world, developers enjoy getting rich, and will continue to sell people as much space, amenities, and so on as they’re willing to buy. The market in housing isn’t radically different than the market in cars or restaurants–there will likely be a broad range of quality and cost available that roughly reflects what people are willing to buy.

      • djw says

        No problem :)

        Mike said refrigerators were required by law; I was assuming he was correct, but I don’t have specific knowledge of that claim.

      • Andrew Brick says

        One more question. No doubt that some people will choose to live in apodments because either it suits their lifestyle or they otherwise like to live there. But it seems that some residents will live there simply because it’s the cheapest option and fits their budget best. So, would the proliferation of this housing type facilitate a bigger lifestyle gap between rich and poor?

      • djw says

        They’d give poor people more choices. Right now people who can only afford $600 dollars a month are pretty much not going to be able to get their own place in Capitol Hill. Building an apodment will give that same poor person a choice they didn’t have before. If they value being in Capitol Hill more than a private kitchen and square footage, they’ll now have more options.

        The increasing gap between rich and poor is a serious problem in this country. But banning apodments doesn’t close the gap. Indeed, it makes it worse in some ways, by effectively preventing some poor people from living in certain neighborhoods (which, by the way, many of them work in!) Laws that deny poor people the ability to choose to trade amenities for location, thus restricting their choice further, aren’t doing them any favors.

      • Andrew Brick says

        Right. Keeping in mind where apodment dwellers may have come from is important. Might even be an increase in quality of life. See how I’ve come 180 on this? Thanks. ;)

      • djw says

        To put it another way, here is what I am NOT willing to say to a poor person:

        “It sucks that you’re poor. I support policies to alleviate poverty. However, in the meantime, I believe that you should have a private kitchen. I’m not willing to pay for that, but I am willing to use the coercive power of the law to force you to pay for it. I think that’s more important for you than the opportunity to live in Capitol Hill. It doesn’t matter to me that Capitol Hill is where your friends/school/work are located, or where you feel at home, or that you’d rather commute by foot than pay $100 dollars a month for a bus pass and waste time commuting. I am forcing you to do this because I value having a private kitchen highly and I think everyone else should do. My priorities about what’s important are correct for everyone, including you.”

        That’s what your logic for banning apodments is saying, in essence. Poor people have to make tradeoffs all the time that the rest of us don’t.

      • djw says

        Didn’t see your last post there, so I didn’t mean to be piling on. Just clarifying my position.

      • Matt Gangemi says

        I just wanted to jump in and say I’ve really enjoyed this discussion. I think Andrew’s original point of view is very common, and it’s been fun to watch the issues fleshed out.

    • Jeremy says

      “has the potential to degrade the overall quality of life in an area”

      Do you have any specifies behind this fantastically vague statement? Here’s an example: continued investment in low-density sprawl degrades the overall quality of life, in particular when a Kent driver recently struck and dragged a 12-year-old, before simply driving off.

      Maybe worry less about the Chinese and their population problems, and more about actual problems here? Like, DUI (Judge Timothy Ryan was recently in the news). Why cannot bars be within “stumbling distance” but instead virtually mandate the use of cars? And so forth.

      • Andrew Brick says

        Jeremy – read my post above that deals with housing standards; housing standards are what I’m referring to when I reference quality of life in these posts.

      • Mike Orr says

        In many European cities (as I’ve seen in London, Glasgow, Duesseldorf, and Cologne), there are night owl buses to every neighborhood and suburb. In the larger cities it’s every night; in the smaller cities it’s just Fridays and Saturdays. But that’s enough to make a difference. Here, if you live outside N 85th, Bellevue Way, 154th, or along Pacific Highway, no night owls for you. And if you’re not starting from downtown, you have to take another bus to downtown by 2:15 or 3:30 or, again, no night owls for you. Forget about trying to get from Tacoma 6th Ave or an Everett show, it’s not happening.

        My friend in Bristol, a small city in England, drove a truck all day for work and drive his car the rest of the time. But at night he’d take a bus downtown to his regular pub, so that he wouldn’t have to drive home. That surprised me; it’s not something that would commonly happen in the US.

  6. Kevin R says

    I’m not opposed to small housing units like this but I do think it would be worthwhile for the City to take a look at how they’re being provided through the Apodment model and what the pluses and minuses of that approach are. I think the whole “eight units that are technically one that share a kitchen” may not a good long-term solution for either the residents or the surrounding neighbors.

    • Brent says

      Seattle already has lots of “co-housing” complexes. You can even find co-housing in downtown Bainbridge Island. If you want to know what people think of living in one of these shared-kitchen facilities, visit one. Don’t assume *everyone* wants to live in a nuclear single-family home (including self-contained single-family apartments). A lot of the tenants of these co-houses are nuclear families, btw.

      Have you bought “Nature’s Path” food at the co-op? Guess what. It’s produced by a commune in Oregon. Capitol Hill has a candidate from the the Socialist Alternative as a finalist for the state legislature, and the neighborhood has not burned down.

      Lots of apartments in Seattle consist of several single-room tenants sharing a kitchen and social space. Yes, they were built as suburban-style single-family houses, but this is where the market has taken such housing, as Seattle is full of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes. Indeed, it is housing designed for nuclear families that is out-of-context for Capitol Hill, and the houses that were built for single families that tend to look a little more blightish.

      • Kevin R says

        Apodments = cohousing? Seriously? You are comparing highly intentional communities with what are effectively rooming houses.

        I’ve lived in group houses myself in the past and see the value of the form – but I also know that the best group houses are the ones that have the highest level of connection and collaboration among the residents. How does that happen in the Apodment where everyone is renting individually from the landlord?

      • Stephen F says

        Kevin,

        Any Single-Room Occupancy development (SRO) is Co-Housing. That’s not bad, just saying. That is how planning certainly defines it. Apodments are definitely co-housing.

      • Kevin R says

        Stephen-

        I haven’t seen cohousing used in that way. The thing that typically makes it cohousing is that it’s an intentional community where people have a say in how it runs. SROs, where typically each renter has a one on one relationship to a landlord, wouldn’t meet that criteria.

    • Mike Orr says

      Seattle probably does have to add something to the code to set standards for micro-apartments. The “eight units are technically one” is an abnormality because they’re under townhouse status. They should be legalized as apartment buildings, and if the code does not accommodate the unique needs of tiny apartments, a category should be added for them. I think we need to start with the premise that “eight units sharing a kitchen with no parking minimum” is a legitimate housing type in an urban neighborhood, and go from there. If there are inherent problems with this model, what are they? Is there a real problem with sketchy people (drug dealers and bad behavior, not baristas and, gosh, “renters”) concentrating in these buildings or is it just a myth? People were worried that light rail would bring undesirables but instead it’s the middle class and hipsters who use it.

      • Kevin R says

        The other approach would be to separate microapartments as a housing type from the apodments and look at the apodments as rooming houses.

      • Matt Gangemi says

        I’d support that. Of course, I don’t even see the apodments as a loophole. It’s legal to rent a room in your house, or two dozen rooms if you have that many. The difference is that the apodment developer is building with that goal in mind, rather than starting with a single family home and shoe-horning in a different use.

      • Orv says

        It seems to me this is basically a revival of the single room occupancy, boarding house/residential hotel model. I suspect underlying the opposition is the fact that traditionally, that type of housing was associated with lower-class people and immigrants. Our mental image of it is Dickensian slums.

  7. John Bailo says

    My own take on it is that densifiers are like the people who slash and burn farmland…getting a short term gain but leaving devastation in their wake.

    You can see this as they run around neighborhood to neighborhood…creating monstrous buildings, jacking up prices, then going to the next patch leaving half sold condos, depressed prices and increased crime in their wake. One day it is Belltown, next South Lake Union, Ballard then Capitol Hill. They scream and yell to get their way, then make a mess, then leave and go on to ruin another piece of urban ecology.

    • Andy says

      And then they come take your babies in the night! And eat your pets! And they generate the economy that pays for your extremely inefficient and unproductive suburbs… oh wait. BABY EATERS!

    • Mike Orr says

      Because central Seattle is so devastated. It’s depopulating like Detroit. If only Detroit had not tried to build a big city, then it would be thriving.

      • David B. says

        Bailo’s post reminds me of one of Yogi Berra’s more famous quips: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

    • Stephen F says

      Oh nos, urban decay!!! The world will collapse. Surely that’s why London and Paris are the rubbish metropolises they are. Full of crime, depopulation, and dying neighbourhoods…Oh wait…No? Oh.

    • rob says

      The monsterous apartment building you live in was in its past life Single family homes or farmland that some developer made money on by increasing the density of units. Did it ruin Kent? No, it provided a place to live that many people choose (like) as you have so proudly asserted.

  8. Brent says

    The price of democracy is eternal vigilance. The price of neighborhood association power is having to attend them. Certainly, there must be more people who understand the connection between the no-growth goals of some (who really don’t represent their neighbors) and the resulting suburban sprawl, who live in Capitol Hill (!), who can attend meetings of the Capitol Hill Community Council, and outvote the no-growthers.

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        Community councils aren’t officially recognized. They are grassroots organizations. How seriously the city takes them depends mostly on how many people attend their meetings and their ability to mobilize the community.

        Not to be confused with district councils, which operate under the auspices of the Department of Neighborhoods and have an official role in reviewing applications to the Large Projects Fund, among other things.

      • Bernie says

        Houghton and Eastgate Community Councils both have veto power over city land use decisions of their respective cities Kirkland and Bellevue.

      • Matthew Johnson says

        Is there a list somewhere of all the different groups and councils? I know I tried to find the one for Columbia City when I first moved here and had no luck (did find the 37th District Dems, and been going every month). I’m pretty active in my community, but haven’t run into this group. I can’t imagine how hard it would be for someone with no such inclinations to find these groups.

        It’s almost like they are intentionally hard to find…

  9. says

    I wonder if Queen Anne homeowners living in 1/2 to 3/4 million dollar homes would welcome apodments on their block.

      • groan says

        Holy cow, I was excited about the $500-700K houses in Queen Anne, then I woke up from the early ’90s

    • says

      The point of my comment had to do with how comfortable people feel saying what’s best for neighborhoods they don’t live in. People who appreciate graffiti never want their own car or house tagged, they always want someone else’s property tagged. I would rather not call them out directly, but someone here, who is for apodments on Capitol Hill, happens to live on Queen Anne, and I was simply asking them if they would want apodments built next to their expensive home.

      • djw says

        Lots of rich people don’t feel “comfortable” around poor people. Heck, lots of white people don’t feel “comfortable” around black people. Neither of those facts justify efforts to manipulate the law to prevent those people from living on property near their homes that they do not, in fact, own.

    • Matt Gangemi says

      I’ll take the bait. I’ve worked to convince neighbors not to fight two different higher density developments less than one block from my home. I see great benefits to density not only at the city level, but in my neighborhood and on my block. Add enough people and we get more retail, better transit, a more lively community center and farmer’s market, more eyes on the street, and maybe someday our own high school again. Add diversity and that retail becomes more interesting, as does community interaction.

      And I’d argue I have a kind of apodment across the street. There’s a large single family house that’s been rented by a group of college students. They are actually great neighbors. I bet some of them wish they had their own bathrooms.

      • Mickymse says

        I’ll wade into this, too… I’m a big supporter of a 200+ unit apartment building going in around the corner from me and a block down. I live in an older townhouse development, in a formerly SFH-zoned area that has sprouted multiple townhouse packs in the last few years. However, one of the 4-packs that just went in up the street from me is ugly as hell, gave no thought to fitting into the area in terms of mass, colors, or texture and I would have happily opposed it if there has been any options for design review on the project.

        Projects have positives and negatives on their own merit. It is actually possible to support density in some places but not all places, density and choice for others when one doesn’t choose it for themselves, or support it all but just think some developers are greedy and care nothing more than making a quick buck and leaving an ugkly project in the neighborhood.

    • Mike Orr says

      The target market for apodments is people wanting to live near an urban main street, not among the mansions. So you see apodments on 12th Ave and 23rd Ave, which have ordinary single-family houses. You’re less likely to see them on 16th Ave or north of Roanoke Park, where the houses are especially large and/or the trees canopy over the sidewalk.

  10. MarkSJohnson says

    I think it’s great that the only examples we have of these are new and meet current buildng Code. In major cities (and small villages) all over the developing world people live in units of this size with their families. In other countries, in buildings without good sanitation, ventilation, or fire protection, we call that poverty. Would we call it poverty if everyone had their own room and bathroom, and a good place to cook, albeit shared with other households?
    Maybe the problem is that the denominator for a “home” in Seattle remains the single-family detached house, and any numerator that involves apartment living is almost always a fraction thereof, especially in the eyes of those living in cities in single family detached homes. Once the majority of Seattleites live in apartments, the denominator will likely change to an apartment, and those that live in them wil insist that public resources should not be lavished on those that enjoy the extraordinary wealth represented by an in-city detached home. Until then, we will argue.

  11. Stephen F says

    I can understand Design Review. I think all projects should go through some form of DRB proceedings, but for smaller projects, it should be relatively streamlined and easy. All projects are required to submit a SEPA checklist. It’s that something like this is unlikely to have to do mitigation or have impacts to trigger a full environmental review. I would be careful with your wording. It’s fair that something of small lot development won’t require a full assessment of impacts because that’s why the local jurisdiction has already prepared a full EIS/SEPA of the zoning and comprehensive planning updates. It’s development that get dropped in with huge impacts *outside* of that original SEPA that require environmental review or that they are impacting critical areas.

    Long and short of it: yes, design review, but simple review, no, full SEPA environmental review is unnecessary.

  12. says

    So are we supposed to listen to communities and neighborhoods or not? Throughout the Northgate parking garage posts, STB gave a lot of weight to what the neighborhood thought and wanted. This post suggests neighborhoods shouldn’t have that much say in what goes on in their community.

    Which is it?

    • Matt Gangemi says

      In my view community groups, just like community members but more so, should be listened to and their opinions considered. Then Council members should make their own decisions.

      Nobody elected community groups. They often have strong biases based on their makeup, and aren’t representative in any way but in name. That said, as a group of people that care enough to meet, they can be a great source of well thought-out ideas. I’d actually consider blogs to be community groups – I’m sure STB’s had more visitors in a day than any community group has had in a year.

      “Throughout the Northgate parking garage posts, STB gave a lot of weight to what the neighborhood thought and wanted.” I followed that set of posts fairly closely, and don’t recall reading this. And it seems like a non-sequitur. Do you mean the Council gave a lot of weight to what the neighborhood thought? STB has no power to approve or reject apodments.

  13. Jei says

    I don’t think most of the people posting here quite understand the status quo for this price level in housing. If you have $500/month to spend on rent, you either find a group of friends or go on Craigslist and find a group of strangers to live with, and then you rent a house or a townhome together. You share a kitchen and bathroom with everyone. The developers of Apodments are merely being intentional about designing for this market, which results in an INCREASE in quality of leaving for many people. You are not stuck in a lease with strangers, you get your own bathroom to clean (or not clean) to your standards, and you get to live in your favorite neighborhood. Some people might prefer a more communal situation, but some people prefer the privacy. The fact that they are possible within the existing code proves that they are not substantially different from existing housing types. If the city moved to limit them, they would run into trouble defining the offending housing type. Some places have laws that limit the number of unrelated people who can live together, which substantially reduces housing options, but that’s about the only possibility.

    More importantly, if we cannot innovate housing types that meet the demands of the market and the needs of people at all incomes, we are in trouble. We need many more ideas like this, and the code to support it.

  14. Not Fan says

    It’s always fun to see “progressive” hypocrisy at work. Here we have the Seattle Transit Blog shilling for a train subsidy to passengers whose incomes are 50% higher than the state average, while fighting the “good” fight for exorbitantly priced “affordable” coffins on Capitol Hill.

    And you wonder why so many people just detest the “new urbanists.”

    • Chris I says

      The hypocrisy goes both ways. I’m glad to see that you are really sticking to your free-market values…

      • Not Fan says

        Always good to see a Seattle “progressive” acknowledging his own hypocrisy. It’s a start, anyway.

      • Chris I says

        I actually live in Portland, and own a detached single-family house. My wife and I own a car and a few bicycles. I like my house, and I was willing to pay more for it than I would have paid for a condo. I don’t think that I should force my beliefs on others, though. If they want to live in shared housing, or car-free living, or even if they want to rent a car-free place and fight for parking every night. That’s their choice.

  15. David B. says

    “Lots of apartments in Seattle consist of several single-room tenants sharing a kitchen and social space. Yes, they were built as suburban-style single-family houses, but this is where the market has taken such housing, as Seattle is full of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes. Indeed, it is housing designed for nuclear families that is out-of-context for Capitol Hill, and the houses that were built for single families that tend to look a little more blightish.”

    I would go further and argue that a zoning code that devotes 10x more land to SFH designed for nuclear families (as opposed to zoning which allows multifamily housing) is out of context for Seattle as a whole, given how Seattle has one of the smallest household sizes in the nation.

    • Mickymse says

      Don’t confuse your data points… The city of Seattle is relatively devoid of children more liekly because there is little option for affordable family housing within city limits. There is no skewed numbers for the county as a whole which would suggest people having fewer children/families in the area.

      • Bernie says

        Nationally the percentage of households with children under the age of 18 is 23.7%. For Washington it’s 23.2%, King County 21.2% and Seattle 15.4%. So county wide the numbers are right about what you expect if the average outside of Seattle was equal to the State average. It’s interesting that while most eastside cities fall in the range of 21.2% (Bellevue) to 23.2% (Renton), Kirkland is more like Seattle at 18.8% and 2.11 persons per household vs Seattle’s 2.04 and King County’s 2.36.

  16. David B. says

    I have a couple questions:

    Isn’t “emergency” legislation supposed to be effective for only a limited time frame (such as, approximately one year)?

    Given that both the previous “emergency” about small-lot houses and the current “emergency” about apodments are being addressed as “emergencies,” how hard would it be to sue the city in about a year’s time if (OK, let’s be honest… when) it fails to move beyond the “temporary” outright ban and develop a longer, permanent policy? It would be expensive to sue, granted, but how difficult would it be to assemble a plausible case?

    Other causes — environmentalism, in particular — have made use of litigation to further their goals. Maybe it’s time for advocates of more ecologically sustainable urban development to do likewise.

    • Kevin R says

      I don’t believe there’s any legislation about the apodments proposed at this time. It looks like the Capitol Hill Community Council is asking the City Council to consider it. I took a look at the small lot legislation and the ordinance does include a workplan with new permanent legislation planned to be in place within one year.

      • David B. says

        Abd if the council does not do something permanent within a year, I would like to see them sued. Ditto if they do pass another ” temporary” law about apodments and subsequently fail to replace it with permanent legislation.

    • Mike Orr says

      Emergency legislation would have a built-in expiration date. The problem would be if it’s renewed year after year rather than passing a sensible permanent law.

      • Kevin R says

        I think that’s what they did with around strip clubs until someone sued about it (renewing the temporary ban year after year). I guess someone who wanted to file a permit would be the best one to sue if they don’t do anything within a year?

  17. Brendan M. says

    Not all the micro-housing buildings are arranged with individual rooms off of a central living space. Some of them are just buildings of small apartments, each one opening onto a main hallway. In that sense, they’re not essentially different from other studio apartments; they’re just smaller and with fewer amenities. You don’t get a full kitchen, but there’s enough space next to the “wet bar” sink to plug in an electric burner or a toaster oven. Remember, “to cook” is simply “to prepare with heat”. If you really need an oven or more prep space, there’s always the full (shared) kitchen down the hall.

      • Orv says

        Right, it’s a slippery slope. First shared kitchens, then shared bathrooms…pretty soon shared beds, and finally shared bodies. We’ll all be brains in a jar and will only get to use a body for one day on alternate weeks! Is that the life you want?!?

      • Nathanael says

        I had shared bathrooms in my college dorms. What’s the problem?

        Virginia Woolf’s famous essay was “A Room Of One’s Own”, not “A Bathroom Of One’s Own”.

      • Mickymse says

        I knew people in “bachelor pads” in Japan who had basically a room with a desk and bed. Shared bathroom down the hall. Dining room down stairs with meals provided.

        No one thought the men needed a kitchen because they didn’t think single men knew how to cook, and didn’t need a bathroom to clean since they were men and couldn’t handle that either.

  18. Matthew Johnson says

    Thinking back on it, I’ve spent the majority of my adult life sharing bathrooms and kitchens. First with boarding school and college dorms, then roommates my last year of college and the year after that, then in barracks while in the military.

    Even when I moved in with my wife and we had our own room and bedroom, we still shared the kitchen and common room with 7 other people. I would probably put that period as the best time/best living situation of my life.

    Now that is not to say I think people should be forced to live that way. I’m just saying some people like it and they shouldn’t be forced to not live that way.

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