Micro-housing project, photo from DPD
Micro-housing development, photo from DPD

Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development has published recommendations regarding how micro-housing should be regulated.  The changes include:

  • Double required parking from 1 space per 8 micros (up to 8 micros per “unit”) to 1 parking space per 4 micros.
  • New requirement for bike parking: 1 space per 4 micros.
  • Potentially adding design review by setting design review levels based on square footage rather than number of units.
  • Prohibits new construction and major renovation of single family homes that include micro dwelling units with bathrooms

This fourth point is particularly strange.  Single family homes presumably will still be able to rent out up to 8 rooms, as currently allowed by code.  Therefore it appears to only outlaw adding bathrooms to single family homes.  The trouble of course is deciding what is a micro and what is just a bedroom with a bathroom.  They do add a requirement that “micro dwelling units are to be indicated and noted on plans and permits”, which seems to leave it up to the developer whether you’re building a micro-unit or just a bedroom with a bathroom.

I understand DPD’s desire to keep control over this new building style, but the best way to make micro-housing affordable is to keep regulations light.  Adding parking and design review will add cost to these projects, which will result in fewer units being built.

38 Replies to “DPD to Double Required Parking for aPodments”

  1. How about drop the parking requirement and add more bike parking? If you really want to live small in the city, a bicycle is the only way to go (until we get effective transit open in the neighborhoods).

  2. Worth noting that the (car) parking requirement doesn’t exist in urban villages, which is where quite a few of these are being built. Nevertheless, I’m still be sad to see that requirement increased — of all the modern housing stock out there, aPodments are the ones best suited for car-free living.

    1. Bruce– really good point, it sounds like these recommendations will largely be irrelevant. But I think this still overly complicates our building code for no real gains. Unless you count appeasing the SFH owners a “real gain,” which in the short term it very may well be, but long term I’d say not a chance.

      I really think DPD needs to make an effort towards code simplification and increase service speed. They review the littlest things, and it takes forever. All of that adds cost and complication. DPD’s comments come back and you’re left just scratching your head. At the review boards completely asinine comments are made and allowed and negatively affect designs, driving up costs, and just making it harder to build in general.

    2. I find it hard to believe that aPods (without individual kitchens and refrigerators) would do much to promote car-free living. aPod residents would be more likely to eat at restaurants and more likely to spend more time away from home. If the aPods are located in a dense and diverse neighborhoods with an abundance of dining, shopping and entertainment options, the residents wouldn’t need cars; but if the aPods are located in sparser neighborhoods with deficient transit service (particularly off-peak/evenings), it would seem that the aPod residents (living in the less dense neighborhood) might be more car-dependent than a family living in a SFH across the street.

      Maybe aPods should look into car sharing schemes. They are already sharing kitchen facilities–why not share transportation facilities, too?

      1. The residents are almost certainly regular car-share users already. Outside a tiny handful of corridors, evening transit service sucks so much in this town it’s basically impossible to be a carless fully functional adult without using car2go or blowing lots of money on cab rides each week.

        If people need and can afford cars to live in a certain area, they’ll rent apartments with parking, or park in the street. If the neighbors don’t like the latter, they can petition the city for an RPZ. If the parking, location and RPZ situation makes the aPodment undesirable, its rents will drop. All of these outcomes are completely fine policy outcomes.

        As for kitchens, I haven’t turned on the oven in my last three apartments, and didn’t do much beyond boil water in the last two. Only the fact that I’m paid enough not to care too much about my rent keeps me in a “proper” studio, paying for a full kitchen that I’ll probably never use. AFAICT, most aPodments also include at least a sink and fridge, and room for a microwave and hotpot. You can feed yourself just fine like that.

        I’m frankly tired of the concern that seems to emanate from older, established homeowners who are shocked and horrified that people might be living in less than middle-class conditions. The alternative to living in aPodments is living in shitty ’50 apartments in Shoreline and Burien with a clunker car, or slumming it in run-down rentals in the U-District, dubiously-legal sublet arrangements, or crashing on a different friend/relative’s couch each week. All of those are much worse outcomes.

        I know people who live like that, and I would like them to have more civilized options. If aPodments are generating real problems (e.g. safety issues, crime), I’m willing to listen to that concern. Otherwise these complaints are all just First World Problems as far as I’m concerned.

      2. Apodments aren’t generally located in sparse neighborhoods because they have to be in walkable, transit-rich, trendy neighborhoods to attract tenants. If you’re just looking for a cheap apartment and have a car, the cheapest apartments are in Tukwila, Kent, and Federal Way, especially those not near bus stops. Apodments are for people who put a premium on living in a walkable, transit-rich, hip neighborhood but can’t afford a regular apartment in those high-priced areas. (They also have a secondary role in offering three-month leases, but again, short-termers are less likely to have a car.) So this law isn’t really about apodments on NE 75th or NW 100th because developers are unlikely to build them there. It’s about apodments on single-family blocks in the trendiest neighborhoods. The trendiest neighborhoods have restaurants and the most frequent transit, so that’s taken care of. And apodments certainly won’t catch on in the suburbs, where you can get a larger apartment for the same price.

      3. Checking apartment rental sites and Craigslist, it appears that most aPods start in the $575-600/month range. One bedroom apartments are impossible to find at that price in Seattle and difficult to find in the hinterlands, too. In Seattle most 1 bdr. apartments rent for 2-3x the cost of an aPod. I don’t know if there would be a demand for aPods on south Beacon Hill or in Lake City, but the further from transit, shopping and jobs the aPods are located, the more likely it is that residents will own and use cars. In fact, a part of the attraction of an aPod could be, that due to the cheap rent, it could be possible to live in decent housing and still own a car. In the densest parts of Seattle with good transit and walkable neighborhoods it seems dumb to build high parking requirements, but the further from transit amenities the aPods are located, the greater the need for parking will be.

      4. Ouch, Bruce! Was the Shoreline statement a jab at me? My building was constructed in 2008/2009. We also have a week old Rapid Ride hut kitty corner from the complex too. We are moving up!

        Shoreline wanted to maintain the feel of neighborhoods so dense development was imited to only certain corridors and areas. This was all established in 1998 or 2001 Master Plans. In addition, a mentality developed to contain Aurora’s issues and developmental impact, so it wouldn’t ooze and invade abutting neighborhoods and destroy their identities. I think Link and associated TOD upzoning may do some of that.

      5. GuyOnBeaconHill: So $250 is the price difference between an apodment and a studio in the Summit area, and you may be able to narrow it to $200. Of course, it’s easy to forget that the apodment includes all utilities and the studio doesn’t. But the point remains that some people can’t afford the $250 difference or don’t think the studio is worth it, while others prefer the space and more appliances. I find it hard to believe people would downsize to an apodment in order to keep their car (because it seems easier to ride a bus than to live in a micro-unit), but I suppose it’s possible.

  3. The first three I disagree with, but can live with. The 4th is not just strange; it’s appalling, and a violation of private property rights of individual homeowners that goes well beyond the scope of legitimate scope of zoning laws.

  4. Much like what was done in Shoreline back in 1998. I believe DPD wants to appease those who live in single family homes that want the neighborhood to maintain the family-friendly feel. Apodments don’t do that. They appeal to singles starting out in the real world or young professionals willing to live in “dorm-style” units. While they are “affordable” for some, they inflate the market rate of rentals for others pushing people further from the city inducing sprawl.

    I applaud DPD by preventing apodments from sprawling into “suburban” City of Seattle neighborhoods. (I’m referring to area like Maple Leaf, Crown Hill, and neighborhoods where the dominant residance is a single family home.)

    1. “they inflate the market rate of rentals for others pushing people further from the city inducing sprawl” Nonsense. Increasing the amount of people that live in the city has the exact opposite effect than what you’re describing.

      1. If renters can’t afford the price, they may end up moving further away to afford the rent. I don’t see how that’s nonsense. It’s logic. It’s hard to fathom why I should rationalize my theory with you since many are deadset in your ways. Alas, I too am deadset in my ways.

        In addition, there are major safety and utility burdens brought on by these things. Single family home at neighborhood infrastructure is not designed for the load (no pun intended). I’m talking sewer, power, and over time roads. I can’t imagine driving down the roads on a bike with concrete panels cracked and poking up out of the ground. Take drive down NE 59th and some neighborhood streets on the ridge. They are in horrific shape. The residents might not have cars. So no gas taxes, RTID or car tabs! Why penalize people WITH cars to pay for these benies that increase the load on public facilities? It’s only fair!

        I expect DPD and City Council to suggest some type of impact fee as mitigation.

      2. If the residents don’t have cars, where do you get the theory that they’re going to tear up the roads so much?

    2. Most of the aPodments being built are in LR* zoning, which has never been a suburban-style SF-only zoning, although many such areas have small-lot SF houses (with no off-street parking).

      Claiming aPodments inflate rent and induce sprawl is shockingly silly. Areas that are close to urban centers are exactly where higher density residential is easy to accommodate.

      1. Could you spell out LR? I know it doesn’t stand for light rail, but that may not be obvious to others.

    3. I read this has been debunked. Smaller units have always been more expensive per square foot than larger units, and always will be. If the price of an apodment is close to the price of the lowest-level studio or 1BR, people who value space more than money will choose the latter. That puts a ceiling on the price of apodments, and the regular apartments’ price is the same or lower than it would have been if the apodments didn’t exist. If the price of an apodment is singificantly lower than the lowest-level studio, then they’re really separate markets, the way low-end and high-end apartments are separate markets.

      There may be a minor upward pressure in the trendiest neighborhoods (which is where apodments tend to be), in that the presence of a new building can cause neighboring landlords to believe it adds value to their building (whether or not their building is well-kept). But that effect is also caused by new regular apartments and condos, which dwarf the number of new apodments buildings.

      1. Mike,

        Any educated prospective tenant can see the cost per square foot. However, the domino effect will take place will initiate upon the greater influx of these units, further conversion of existing apartments to apodments, and then you’ll see an excelleration of what is shown in Cross Cut. It’s “family flight!” They are priced out, and some want more space to grow their families. …not an apodment. With more 2 and three bedroom units making way for studios and apodments, the demand will increase and supply shrinks! …simple economics. Thus, prices will rise!

        2011 CrossCut Article Regarding Seattle Family Flight

      2. I haven’t seen apartment buildings converted to apodments, just purpose-built apodment buildings. The number of 2+ bedroom units is too low, but what evidence is there that they are being replaced by apodments? New buildings are increasing their number of 2+ bedroom units because of the shortage, so the net number is probably going up..

      3. @Charlotte

        Actually, if you look at the census data, the absolute number of children in Seattle increased from 1990 to 2000 (2,897 more kids), and the growth accelerated from 2000 to 2010 (5,686 more kids) (see this PDF) . The number of adults in the city grew even faster, so the percentage of children in the city fell slightly.

        If you look at this PDF, you’ll see that the number of households with children increased by 8.7% between 2000 and 2010.

        Compared to the whole county, state, and country, Seattle does have an exceptionally low percentage of children, but it’s not accurate to say we’re experiencing “family flight”.

      4. Phil, are you suggesting the gentrification of S Seattle and other areas is not pushing the poor further away?
        Seattle Poor being Pushed Out
        This exists! It is posted in the news all the time. Long time owners can’t aford taxes on their long paid off houses because the value on a home that was once $24k is now $500k+. It’s only a matter of time until people consider pushing for a California-Prop 13 style initiative here.

        For anyone to think that this type of development or even TOD won’t be considered gentrification and push poor out, you’re blowing hot air. I watched this same pattern play out in my old home of Charlotte seven years ago. When developers were swooping in to buy parcels and public housing for development. The poor were pushed out into the University Area. The then-mayor is now the NC governor. He helped move forward on Lynx a far more ambitious light rail system on a blighted corridor in Charlotte (South Blvd). Oddly enough, it was built and opened under McCrory, but B.O. credits Foxx with Lynx. I guess it is a sin for a democrat to credit a republican with light rail that is successful in the “New South.” Plus…it moves faster along the corridor than our Link. Oddly Ron Tober was hired to launch Link in 2009, former head of CATS (operator of Lynx). He quickly left after its launch and went back to Charlotte. (Sorry to drift a little off topic. I’m still bitter about that choice and what was said.)

        But back to Seattle, and the demographics posted, while the raw number of children grew as did the population of Seattle. Did you notice on your fist link that the share of children as part of the population shrink slightly? Notice too, The areas sqealing like stuck pigs about apodments are the same ones with greater numbers of….you guessed it…kids and single family homes!

      5. The trend toward few children and small households predates apodments. Seattle vies with San Francisco as the city with the smallest percentage of children in the US. There are several factors for this. In the 1950s there were lots of families with kids in the small apartments on Capitol Hill and First Hill. But people’s values changed while the apartments didn’t. Now, young singles like urban areas. Most families prefer good schools, a yard, and a bedroom for each kid. There are more childless couples than before, and they can afford higher housing prices. Tech workers tend to be young and single and like to live in the city, and we have a lot of tech workers. Seattle is welcoming to gays, many of whom fled from intimidation in their suburban neighborhoods or from less tolerant parts of the country. Then there’s white flight, although it was less here than in other cities. All these factors conspire to a lack of children and more one-person households. Apodments are just a small part of the result, and I don’t think they’re going to snowball into an epidemic because only a small fraction of people are willing to live in them.

        There’s also a countertrend that’s brewing. Many people see the lack of children and families and think, “That’s a bad imbalance. It’s bad for the health of the city and its future.” So families with children have started to move back to the city, and developers have started to build more 2+ bedroom units. They’re still only building a small number and it needs to increase, but it’s a start. Some families are also saying, “I don’t care if the bedrooms are small, as long as they exist.” So that’s also guiding developers.

        The reason rents are going up is that the population is increasing, and zoning prevents the appropriate amount of multifamily housing from being built. And because transit is infrequent outside a few neighbrohoods, it makes people want to live in those neighborhoods and drives up the rents there. (Rainier Valley is of course the exception, where the lingering effects of redlining, overblown fears of violence, and a reluctance to live around people who don’t look like you, put a partial brake on housing prices.) If we could replace more single-family houses with multifamily buildings, rather than replacing cheap old multifamily buildlings with expensive new multifamily buildings, it would do a better job of keeping housing prices from going up.

      6. So Charlotte what would you propose to stop/prevent gentrification? The frequently seen solution of preventing any new development usually just has the effect of making the neighborhood in question become a wealthy enclave even more quickly than would have happened with less regulation.

        My personal belief is we should for the most part allow developers to build what they want, wherever they want as long as certain minimum safety and environmental standards are met.

        I somehow doubt we’d see 400 foot towers on 145th if we did that simply because there is no demand for such construction and large developments have to convince those financing them there is a market for what is being built.

      7. @John

        Seattle has a somewhat lower percentage of citizens that are 65 or older (10.8%) vs the US as a whole (12.8%). In the short term, it seems unlike that an increased death rate will cause Seattle’s population will decrease.

      8. There’s a weird assumption that “families” will look like 1950s nuclear families.

        They won’t.

        This is the 2010s. It takes a village to raise a child, right? So you’re going to see “families” in very different living environments from “single-family homes”. We are likely to see a decline in the apartment and a return of the boarding house. And yes, not just for single people — for families too.

        I am told that Portland has a large and increasing number of “group rentals”, where 4-7 not-all-related friends rent an entire house.

    4. I live car-free in Maple Leaf, while maybe not quite as convenient for car-free living as Capitol Hill it certainly is much better than many neighborhoods this far North.

      Personally I wouldn’t mind seeing more micro-housing, ADUs, duplexes, and even traditional multi-family construction in Maple Leaf. Frankly I love my neighborhood and the key to keeping it affordable (and Seattle in general) is to build more housing with lower construction costs. By limiting the housing supply and making what little housing is built expensive through lots of regulatory requirements (parking, design review, minimum square footage, height limits, requirements for ground floor retail in areas with little retail demand, etc.) it simply means forcing lots of people to live on the outskirts of the urban area.

      1. it simply means forcing lots of people to live on the outskirts of the urban area.

        Which is why we have transit…right?

      2. No John, I was addressing Charlotte who was claiming micro-housing somehow leads to sprawl.

        I know you’ve been reading STB long enough to know transit does not work particularly well in low-density outlying areas. The best that can typically be done is to provide peak commute time access to large job centers. All day transit in such areas costs a lot of money, tends not to be terribly useful, and has poor ridership. Compare this to some routes in Seattle that are packed all day and often into evenings/nights/weekends.

        The primary purpose of transit is to provide transportation, transit does so most effectively in areas of high-density. The primary purpose of transit is not to allow people to live 60+ miles from where they work.

      3. Oi…
        Where do I talk about 60 mile commutes? Where do I talk about all-day service to sprawl areas? Don’t spin this conversation. …and don’t try to put words in my mouth.

        The purpose of transit is to give commuters options. I, as a commuter, can opt to take the 358 OR I can drive myself. It’s far cheaper for me to drive to work than it is to use transit. Options. That’s the key.

  5. I object to the terms “aPodment” and “micro-housing” being used interchangeably. I don’t mind micro-housing in general, but I don’t like the way the aPodment company has been conducting business.

    1. I was going to use micro-apartment, microunit and micro in my comments above but it’s just too cumbersome.

    2. You can put this in the category of unquantized words along with “sprawl” and “density”.

  6. Are these micro-housing buildings meeting ADA requirements, or are they just ignoring them, pretending they don’t have meet them?

    1. Good question. Since they involve renting to multiple people, if they’re new-build and more than two stories tall, they’re subject to the full ADA regs (which means elevators). Almost all two-story buildings are exempt (except commerical/industrial).

      If they’re renovations of old buildings, they really don’t have to do very much.

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