Publicola: The Pitchforks Come Out

In the blogosphere we’re sometimes accused of hyperbole but this is not one of those cases. Many of the same people who turned out to try to kill Capitol Hill TOD and were outvoted by a margin of 2:1 because of broad and unusually representative community turnout at the TOD meeting, turned out unchecked to yesterday’s midday Apodment brownbag.

You can watch the full video here. Key excerpts of Erica Barnett’s coverage of the meeting are below:

The city council’s transportation committee just held a group therapy session for opponents of micro-housing, or “aPodments,” who showed up in overwhelming numbers, rhetorical pitchforks in hand, to a “brown bag” discussion this afternoon to express their opposition to the affordable developments, which consist of small units arranged around shared kitchens. (We toured Capitol Hill’s Alturra aPodments last month.)

The battle lines on the council itself were clear in today’s meeting, where council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen—the council’s resident microhousing skeptic—spent much of the time before public comment asking representatives from the city’s Department of Planning and Development and Office of Housing rhetorical questions that had the effect of making aPodments look bad.

For instance: Rasmussen, who is almost certainly well-versed in the design guidelines that govern aPodments, asked DPD’s Mike Podowski whether an aPodment with 56 bedrooms would be subject to design review. Podowski responded that in most cases, it would not, but that of 48 microhousing developments the city has approved, “about half a dozen did go through design review.”

Rasmussen likened the new micro-apartment buildings to the single-room occupancy hotels of the 1970s, two of which burned down, killing dozens of residents. “Is our code up to date” to handle micro-apartments?, Rasmussen asked.

Podowski noted that the fire code has been updated since the 1970s (largely in response to the SRO fires), that the buildings have all the required sprinklers, and that the fire marshall has signed off on the floor plans. Incidentally. by Rasmussen’s logic, the city should ban all dorms and hotels.

And one woman testified that aPodments would quickly be overrun by mold, “meth addicts,” “wild parties,” people with “mental illness,” and men who will terrorize “our daughters.” (Then, in a classic case of concern trolling, she worried that microhousing residents wouldn’t be able to cook decent food, because they’d have filthy shared kitchens and in-unit microwaves that wouldn’t “even be big enough for a Hungry Man dinner.”)

Full coverage here.

Comments

  1. Benjamin C says

    Maybe we should force owners of single family housing to go through a design review board before the city allows them to turn their homes into rentals. After all, a large SF home with 5-10 residents, a shared kitchen and small rooms seems to fall within the category of things these folks seem to hate.

    Better yet, let’s build a wall around Seattle to keep the rabble out.

  2. alexjonlin says

    Obviously a large number of these people just want to stop apodments from being built in general and are using the design review thing as an excuse, but can’t we all agree that it does make sense for them to go through design review like any other multi-family building? Then we would force the opponents to show their true intentions, and get better urban design to boot.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      God no. I think you’re making a set of assumptions there.

      - You assume that the opponents have to say anything different from what they’re already saying. They wouldn’t.

      - You assume that we’d get better urban design… somehow. I don’t see how that would happen.

      • alexjonlin says

        Currently one major issue that they always bring up is that apodments are subject to different rules than apartment buildings containing the same number of units… they would no longer be able to use that. And are you just against the design review process in general?

      • Chris Stefan says

        It all depends on how you define a ‘unit’. The city does so by number of kitchens rather than individually rentable spaces. By the ‘number of kitchens’ measure aPodment type developments are below the design review threshold.

    • Chris Stefan says

      Actually smaller multi-family developments do not need to go through design review.

    • Brent says

      I don’t even have a microwave oven in my apartment. I bet a lot of homeowners in this town don’t, either. Shhhh. Don’t tell the Design Review Police.

  3. David L says

    Did she seriously use the word “daughters?”

    Either she knows the history of that sort of phrasing or she doesn’t, and in either case that is breathtakingly bad.

  4. adam says

    The publicola article is right about the pitchforks coming out, but out of all the bile, there’s something interesting in point number 2:

    “2) aPodments bring the “wrong kind” of people to neighborhoods—people who may move away and don’t have families, for example. ”

    Forget the “wrong kind” of people comment – total nonsense.

    Focus instead on the second half – isn’t it true that micro-housing isn’t meant to be a long-term housing solution? That no, they’re probably not right for families?

    What does that really mean to a neighborhood in terms of population, necessary public services, business opportunities, etc.?

    The big questions are these: What are we sacrificing in the name of density? Are people wrong to be concerned about the health of a neighborhood when a different style of living is being brought to prominence? Is there a physical lower bound to the amount of space below which 1 (or 2 or 3 or more) people shouldn’t live in? Should there be?

    I realize that microhousing isn’t about to swallow up whole blocks at a time, and even in their present form contribute to the good health of neighborhoods throughout the city, so the fear-mongering in front of the council is totally ridiculous and overblown. But, I think the questions that created those fears are of some merit; however, they’re far more philosophical (or simply academic, if a certain member of the council has his way) than those that will be asked in the upcoming fight to revise the housing codes.

    • Adam Bejan Parast says

      An owner of several micro-housing units spoke about who lives in his. The average age for residents in his developments are 33, stay for an average of 14 months and make on average 17k a year. Only 20% are students, with 20% in the service industry and the remainder in other fields.

      I need to point out these aren’t “prominent”. They are one type of housing that has been around for decades in one form or another and is one type of many that are available.

      What disturbs me the most about a conversations along these lines is the underlying premise that renters are somehow less of “community” people than homeowners.

      I’m very good friends with Dane, Owen, Ben, Faz, and Ali in my apartment building to name a few. We have impromptu building BBQs together and go to the beach in the summer. Outside my building, I literally have hundreds of friends (and a small group of close friends) that live on Capitol Hill. They might not be my next door neighbor and go to community council meetings, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t a community.

      • adam says

        Certainly! This particular mindset of renters-as-inferior is thinly-veiled (at best) in this debate. I’m a renter myself – am I suddenly not good enough to be a productive member of my neighborhood, city, and society? You’re right to point this out – it’s little more than class warfare.

        It’s also very useful to point out those statistics: 14 months is not “transient” by any definition. 33 years old is not the average age of a college dorm. A college dorm also has 100% students, not 20%.

  5. Sam says

    Reading that woman’s comment about filthy shared kitchens in aPodments reminding me that I’ve heard that somewhere before, just recently. Oh yeah. A few posts ago Mr. Parast was talking about his days in shared housing, when he said, “The kitchen, which didn’t have a dishwasher, was a smelly mess most of the time.” Maybe this woman wasn’t such a troll after all.

    Speaking of hyperbole … pitchforks, really? It’s funny how when people turn out for a cause you agree in, it’s a healthy democracy in action, but if people turn out for a against a cause you believe in, it’s an angry, irrational mob.

    • Adam Bejan Parast says

      Apodments have paid kitchen cleaners and the on site managers enforce cleaning rules. #gotchafail

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Yeah, they’re way better than informal shared housing – good point Adam.

      • Chris Stefan says

        As Ben points out there are plenty of informal shared housing situations with nasty kitchens in this city. Furthermore lets not forget all of the single-family homes that have been converted to rooming houses, which generally have nasty kitchens as well.

    • djw says

      What I don’t understand why she cares about it her neighbor’s kitchen cleanliness. I have no idea whether my neighbor’s kitchens are filthy or sparkling clean, and I don’t care. Furthermore, I can’t imagine how I could convince myself it was any of my business.

  6. John A. Bailo says

    Are there any very high density areas worldwide that have apodments…say Paris?

    The thing that bothers me is it is an untested model…would anyone even sign up for these if they build them…

    • Mike Orr says

      Apodments in Seattle have almost zero vacancy rate.

      I don’t know if they exist in other cities in this form or if Calhoun invented them. Townhouse-apodments depend on an esoteric quirk in Seattle’s zoning code, and townhouses themselves are also under esoteric zoning. It’s probably more correct to say that Seattle’s townhouse zoning was untested, leading to unusable garages and tight driveway angles and a narrow range of buildings that could be built around them. Had Seattle borrowed townhouse models from older cities, this wouldn’t have happened. Likewise, if developers were given more freedom to develop apodments in different ways, they’d probably be different but I’m not sure how. They might just look like apartment buildings, or some developers might get creative in disguising them as single-family friendly houses. Like how Bill Gates’ mansion is disguised to look like four neighborhood-sized houses.

  7. Emily says

    Here’s all I know about aPodments, and my knowledge comes exclusively from waiting for the #48 bus on 23rd. The people who live there (I see them going in and out) look TOTALLY NORMAL.

  8. DJR says

    I actually tried to go to this but I couldn’t find anyone there at 1130 when I showed up.

  9. Zed says

    Why is the transportation committee having meetings about micro-housing? I can’t believe that they’ve run out of transportation issues to discuss.

  10. JonCracolici says

    To me this says one thing: this site needs to have a prominent calendar of these events. I don’t know how to code at all or I’d do it. I hope someone with those skills steps up. I feel like I get info about these events like this.
    1) I hear about it when it gets scheduled by the city.
    2)1-2 months of silence. (cause there’s nothing to say worth an article)
    3)The day after it happens.
    Can we fix number 2? I hope so.

  11. Sophia Katt says

    I like the general idea of boarding house arrangements, and don’t have the paranoia some of the anti-pod crowd appears to have. But the buildings that have gone up so far are terrible, and will not improve the long-term health of the hood.

    From the Design Review guidelines:

    ” Use materials that are consistent with the existing or intended neighborhood character, including brick, cast stone, architectural stone,terracotta details, and concrete that incorporates texture and color.

    Consider each building as a high-quality, longterm addition to the neighborhood; exterior design and materials should exhibit permanence and quality appropriate to the Capitol Hill neighborhood.”

    The a-Podments haven’t done any of this, at least not the ones I’ve seen.

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