15th and 52nd - One of my co-housing experiences (via Google Streetview)
One of the houses I lived in, converted into 3 apartments with 8 – 10 bedrooms total (via Google Streetview)

Over the last few months there has been a lot of talk about micro-housing. In most, if not all, the discussions I’ve had with friends, neighbors and acquaintances one common theme has emerged, personal experience. Whether it’s now or decades ago, many people have needed this type of housing sometime in their life.

Whether they are a transplants from Idaho trying to start a new life, an SU college student trying to make ends meet, a gay non-profit worker than wants to live close his friends in a community he feels safe and accepted in, or someone that simply would rather spend money on something besides space and furniture he doesn’t need, everyone has a reason why these types of housing meet their needs. No one is forced into them.

Personally, I care about micro-housing because for 7 years I lived in less desirable alternatives to it. In 2008 I was kicked out of the room I rented in a Capitol Hill townhouse for speaking up about tenant law violations, only to find out a year later from the Secret Service that my landlord committed identify fraud on multiple residents after me. Before that I lived in the house pictured above, which was chronically cold in the winter because it cost too much to heat in the winter. The house before that was even worse, shared with nine roommates; I could often see my breath in the morning. The kitchen, which didn’t have a dishwasher, was a smelly mess most of the time. Micro-housing would have much better met my needs, but it wasn’t available then.

Expanding professionally managed, newly-built micro-housing meets these needs and provides a much needed alternative to the sometimes poorly managed, sub-standard, unhealthy or illegal housing that up until now has been the only option for many people who have needed affordable housing.

What are your stories of how micro-housing adds an additional housing choice that either meets or could have meet your housing needs?

P.S. Today at City Hall starting at 11:30 the city will be hosting a brown bag on micro-housing.If you support this affordable housing choice attend and show your support because there will be lots of people that don’t.

46 Replies to “Your Story: Micro-, Co-, Congregate, and Converted Housing”

  1. Seems like micro-apartments + TOD would be an ideal match.

    So, you have these desirable nodes on LINK, where a lot of people might want to live (work, play) and also have access to event centers (arenas, parks, concerts).

    Why should apodments only be in downtown Seattle? If a person wants really low cost and car free and community why not build these at every LINK and Sounder station even as far flung as Lakewood?

    1. That’s a great idea. Why do these communities choose to enact restrictive land use policies that prohibit this kind of development? What are they afraid of?

      1. So if you were to say, only zone these within a reasonable radius of a transit station, they might become palatable to home owners who might fear blockbusting. You could say, well with TOD its already built up and zoned.

        So you could have say a UW student, getting a Rainier Beach apodment for low cost and scooting in on LINK all day and night.

      2. What are they afraid of?

        Us … renters.

        Most neighborhoods have had the cleverness to say it was about parking spaces. Other neighborhoods weren’t so clever. They say we are out of character with their neighborhood (when, in fact we are the majority in their neighborhood, but our work schedules don’t mesh with their homeowners meetings). Some even go as far as saying people of our ethnicity are not welcome in their neighborhood. Shocking, but true.

        At the signpost ahead, you have entered the SFH zone.

      3. So, they are worried that an influx of white folk will bring more crime into Rainier Valley? (I’m not saying it won’t. I’m just asking what they are thinking when they open their mouths and say we aren’t welcome to move there.)

      4. And what about the mansion owners on Mercer Island, who I’ve heard are statistically high targets for looters?

      5. Good find. I like this one in the comments section:

        “wysoumible
        1 hour ago

        @Blindman A building full of itinerant, potsmoking malcontents ghettoizing a neighborhood, in which they have no vested interest, with crappy cars curbside, overnight guests and third world “free and open” hygiene was undoubtedly influential in the Council’s decision. I’m sure they appreciate the validation.”

        Good to see that class warfare is still alive and kicking.

      6. Snohomish city was always a longshot. It remains to be seen whether larger, closer-in cities like Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, and Everett will be more forward-thinking.

      7. Another thing is, apodments are not likely to make “those people” move from Rainier Valley to Lynnwood. They’re more likely to be filled by existing Snohomish County residents who are currently living with their parents, need to downsize their apartment, or just started working/studying in the area. If misbehaving crackheads move in, they’re probably Snohomish County crackheads, not King County crackheads.

      8. I think the tenant-quality problems @Blindman proposes are actually more of a symptom of unprofessional or careless management than of dense, inexpensive housing as such. You mostly see those kinds of activities in places that don’t do credit checks or rental history checks — converted houses leased out by slumlords, trailer parks, etc.

  2. I lived in Chinatown/ID for almost two years, and this area seems to have the best example of micro-housing in Seattle.
    The apartment I lived in, the Alps Hotel Apartment (on Maynard/King), has first floor retail then 5 stories of efficiency studios 20+ rooms each floor. My room according to my own measurement was 130 sq ft, incl. a counter-top stove, fridge, microwave, and a 3/4 bath (toilet+shower). The rent was $448 a month, didn’t incl. utilities (around $30 for water/sewage/electricity combined). And FYI, the quoted rent was considered “market rate”.
    This building, like many other efficiency studios apartments in Chinatown, weren’t built for the purpose but was (as the name suggest) built as hotels, for their proximity to our two railway stations (The Alps was built in 1907).

  3. I have a good friend who’s a UW senior, and she lives in an *extremely* quirky converted mansion at [deleted, too specific], and she pays $675/month for a studio with a shared bathroom and a kitchen in a converted closet that surely violates some sort of code. She’s been there for almost two years and loves it, with 12′ ceilings and a corner porch that gets tons of sun. If she ever moved she’d have to double her rent to be able to stay on Capitol Hill.

    1. Well, let’s hope the Code Police don’t read this blog since you outed the location so precisely. :-)

      1. Or that her health is impacted by the code violation. I hope it isn’t a fire code violation, those have lethal consequences.

      2. butch,

        If only outlaws can add new rental units in Seattle, then renters will only be able to rent from outlaws.

  4. When I first moved to Seattle in 2008, I lived in a “punk house” in the U-District. The rent was something like $530 (a shock for me, since the NorCal punk house I’d moved out of was $250-$350), and conditions pretty horrible. Filthy, attic infested with pigeons, freezing cold in winter (I slept in a sleeping bag under the covers during a particularly cold week), and unbearably hot in summer. Neighbors were either quiet students, wild frat boys, and drunk hobos. But it was all I could afford and I was thankful for the ability to live in the city.

    Not sure I wold have considered an apodment at the time, as I really enjoyed being in the pnk house scene or whatever.

    Now I rent a nice 900sf single family house in Wallingford with my wife. If for some reason I had to find a place to live on my own, I would definitely consider an apodment. But only if I could keep my bikes inside of it!

  5. A couple of things. First off, micro-housing isn’t cheap. The cost per square foot is often greater than a normal size apartment. Secondly, jobs are moving the suburbs. Even though many downtowns are experiencing a revitalization, with more and more people wanting to live in or near a city’s center, the jobs often aren’t following. So now we have a situation where people want to live downtown but have to get to jobs dozens of miles away. How do they get there? Many of these kind of micro-houising dwellers don’t have cars. Factor in that this is a very impatient, narcissistic, I deserve the best of everything generation, and buses cramp their style, so now we must build them a multi-bilion dollar rail system to get them from their downtown apartment to their jobs 20 miles away. This cheap apartment doesn’t seem so cheap now, does it?

    1. Following your logic we should outlaw fun size candy bars because it cost more per pound than a king size candy bar.

      The fact is you can’t rent an apartment by the square foot. If you can’t afford the whole thing you cant afford it at all.

      1. Here’s my larger point. There are two trends going on in many American cities right now. Jobs are moving away from city centers, but many people want to live downtown but can’t afford it. With micro-housing, the renter gets to pay a little less in rent, but society is now stuck with a big bill trying to transport them to their job which is often dozens of miles away.

      2. The same thing happens in the opposition direction, suburb to city. Your point is totally moot.

      3. Once you already have lots of buses running in the peak direction, having lots of buses run in the reverse direction costs almost nothing. Why? Because the buses are already running in the reverse direction anyway – they’re just either carrying very few people, or deadheading completely.

        Ultimately, having a reverse commute that somewhat balances out the peak commute makes the transit system as a whole more efficient. And people who live in the city and work in the suburbs are a lot more likely to ride transit to non-work activities than people who live in the suburbs and work in the city.

      1. I think Sam is talking about Seattle being a suburb of Tacoma, since the jobs have been moving from downtown Tacoma to suburban downtown Seattle.

      2. From Sam’s own link:

        It’s also more expensive for taxpayers. Infrastructure costs can be 40% higher in low-density areas than higher ones.

        Whoops… so much for your infrastructure-entitlement argument!

        Anyway, if you actually go to Brookings, you’ll discover that the “share of jobs 10-35 miles” from the Seattle or Bellevue CBDs have actually dropped by 1.5% over the past decade. (Greatest percentage gain is “jobs 3-10 miles from a CBD”.)

    2. Sam- I understand and respect your opinion, but I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about when you say that “jobs are moving to the suburbs.” Job growth in the suburbs is larger AS A PERCENTAGE, but Seattle is still has massively more jobs in its downtown than any suburb, including Bellevue. If you look at the volume of jobs, Downtown has everywhere else beat by a country mile, and is expanding at least as fast as Bellevue, just not as a percentage. Do you not see the cranes all over the place?
      My generation is impatient. That’s because we’re being completely screwed. Compare our potential lifetime earnings to yours. Compare our unemployment rate to yours. Etc. We aren’t narcissistic. We don’t “deserve” the best of everything, we want it and we have to work harder and longer for it than the generations before us. Generalizations like that make you sound out of touch with these people.
      Please don’t argue that peoples decision to move closer to work, and to live the city life in a way that they can afford is a symptom of their being spoiled. That’s very silly. If someone builds it, and I WANT TO move in, and it isn’t dangerous or horrible, then who are you to say no?

      1. That’s what old people do. They get opinionated, set in their ways, and start complaining about everything, even if it doesn’t affect them.

    3. “jobs are moving the suburbs”

      Jobs have been moving to the suburbs over the past four decades, but it’s slowing and may even be reversing, at least in Pugetopolis. Actually, I doubt it’s really that the same jobs are “moving” en masse, but rather that the relative rate of new jobs creation in Seattle vs the suburbs keep changing. Density is also a factor. A lot of jobs can fit in Fremont or the U-District, and adding another hundred jobs in one building is barely noticed, while adding a hundred jobs in Factoria means a new office park four times as large as the Fremont building, which is really obvious (and a 20 minute walk from the bus stop). It’s just like how the Eastside is the same physical size as Seattle but has a lot smaller population: that’s what low density means, and it means the area is contributing less to the region’s total housing and employment and census than might appear.

  6. this is exactly the reason why much more microhousing should be built, supply is not matching demand, thus property owners can charge higher than they realistically should be able to…

  7. I lived in a small studio in the U District from 1989 to 1995. It was about 250 square feet, with a small alcove that served as a bedroom, and a closet-sized kitchen that you could almost turn around in.

    When I moved in, it felt like heaven: it was my own place in the middle of the city. (I’d spent the previous year living with a relative.) I stayed for nearly six years because the location was great, management was good, and the neighbors were quiet… and because the rent stayed at $300 from the time I arrived to the time I left.

    It was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it, and the price was right. My income grew in the time I was there, but I always found other things I’d rather do with the money than move and find a bigger place.

    I moved out of the U District studio when I left Seattle to take an out-of-town job. I later lived for a year in a similar-sized studio in Chicago for all the same reasons, and for all the same advantages.

  8. When I first moved to Seattle, I rented two bedroom unit with a friend of mine in Capitol Hill for $450/month. The owner also cut out two apartments on the top floor of this converted house for a one bedroom and a studio. I have no idea if this was to code or not. He also rented the garage out as a work space. We had our problems with the old house (leaky pipes), narrow hallways, but it was great to live in the city for that cheap.

    I wouldn’t have done it, however, if I didn’t know someone who I could room with. Maybe I felt uncomfortable living with strangers, I don’t even remember now. But that’s probably why my first place when I moved to Washington was a 1BR in Renton highlands. So much more apartment than I really needed at the time. And, I had to drive on 405 all the time.

  9. While studying at the UW, two friends and I had a fourth roommate who it turned out was the guy who played guitar in front of the trader joe’s on roosevelt (I wasn’t in charge of picking the roommate). He stopped paying rent after the first month, and we had to evict him, at considerable cost in terms of both time and money. In the mean time, he filled the entire house and the yard full of garbage he got out of dumpsters. He seemed to always turn-up naked when we had girls over, and would have strange guests stay for days or weeks at a time. Even after we evicted him, he managed to live in the garage for several more months.

    The worst part was we needed a fourth because we couldn’t afford it otherwise, so we literally subsided on top ramen, etc. for food until we finally got a new roommmate.

  10. Let me start my story with the exception. I grew up in a single-family home until I went off to college.

    After that, I lived in SFHs for a short stint, twice. Once was a formal co-op where we had work assignments and served all-vegetarian meals. It was coool.

    The other was a shared house with a kitchen whose messiness was proportionate to the fullness of the house. I have to admit: Our landlord had to put a lot of energy into maintaining the house. He was a good and just landlord.

    Other than that, I’ve lived in a dorm a couple years, and the rest of my adult life in apartments. Apartments fit my lifestyle best because my schedule doesn’t work with group living/cooking. If I didn’t have an apartment to move to in the neighborhood my job moved to, I wouldn’t have that job any more.
    .

    Let me conclude my life story with this antidote: I was once in a training session for about 30 volunteer doorbellers for a political campaign. The trainer directed us to skip apartments because “statistically, people in apartments don’t vote.” (This seems to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy in the town where I went to college.) One of the volunteers asked for a show of hands of who in the room lived in an apartment. Every hand went up, except for the trainer.

    Homeowners may bring more people to the neighborhood meetings, luncheons, hearings, etc. But to paraphrase King Leonidas, we renters bring more soldiers.

  11. “P.S. Today at City Hall starting at 11:30 the city will be hosting a brown bag on micro-housing.If you support this affordable housing choice attend and show your support because there will be lots of people that don’t”

    I missed a previous hearing because I couldn’t fine where or when it was going on.

    I would have made arrangements to go to this one if I had more advanced notice.

    What is the feasibility of putting up an event calendar on this site?

    Thanks for the opportunity to tell our stories.

    1. Another event has been promised by Tom Rasmussen in the evening in early May or so. We’ll provide updates.

    2. +1 to providing an actual calendar. Next fall or so, I might actually be able to go to things if I have a calendar. (I might start keeping my own if this blog doesn’t.)

  12. I just got back from the brown bag – I was able to give my comments and talk to a few reporters before having to bolt back to work. I would highly encourage everyone to watch the video of it – the info session has a good summary of what’s going on, and with most of the council there, a good bellwether on who stands where on the subject.

    The comments I heard were mostly negative, as expected. However, before I left two Microhousing developers spoke. One gave good testimony as to his intentions in building the development – rational minds would accept it as evidence that not all developers are greedy neighborhood-murdering meanies – and the other provided very enlightening statistics on who lives in his developments, average lease length, etc.

    I feel like I was the only person under 25 in the entire room. Glad I was able to speak before time forced my hand.

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