Seattle Transit Blog

The Next Housing “Emergency”


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.