A Sunday Times cover story ($) late last year told the story of some longtime renters driven out by a new building owner’s intent to renovate and move upmarket:

The record pace of apartment construction… is skewing the average rent higher, said local apartment expert Mike Scott. In part that’s because the new apartments tend to be steel high-rises with luxury-condominium finishes and amenities like gyms, theaters and game rooms that aren’t typically found in older apartments.

 “The rent has gone up, but the product is so much superior to what they were doing 10 years ago,” said Jon Hallgrimson, executive vice president at commercial brokerage CBRE.

Many people are skeptical of regulation micromanaging the housing market, and with good reason. Arbitrary rules can retard one thing that capitalism does very well: matching supply with demand.* Detailed rules can also create perverse incentives and unintended consequences.

But if Seattle is considering these kinds of regulations, as it is in the aPodment debate, it could do worse that trying to limit free amenities like pools and gyms in new or renovated buildings: not banning them outright, but forcing them to unbundle from the rent and instead operate as separate businesses, open to the public.

Consider the following advantages:

  • To the extent it deters construction of these amenities, it leaves more space for units. More units are critical to most of the social challenges density can address.
  • Developers evidently believe they can command higher rents by devoting valuable space to these areas. It follows that separating out these features would lower prevailing rents.
  • Opening a gym to the general public enriches the neighborhood, allows multiple buildings to diversify their amenities, and uses space more efficiently.

Urbanists are familiar with the identical argument when the subject is parking. Residents shouldn’t pay for expensive services they don’t use; bundled parking encourages car ownership (with serious negative externalities) and raises housing costs for everyone. While the externalities of a pool, gym, or private club are not in the same league, unbundling these services strikes me as a much better idea than taxing the housing construction we desperately need to encourage.

* And by “demand” I mean “demand with money behind it.”

50 Replies to “Is It Time to Ban Amenities?”

  1. The record pace of apartment construction… is skewing the average rent higher

    Seems intuitively screwy, but makes sense with regard to amenities.

    If you lump all apartments together, then of course, rent falls to the lowest price of the last available apartment (assuming there is one…if not…it rises to the last wallet’s ability to pay).

    However, let’s say that not everyone is a Classic Seattlite who wants to live in a moldy 100 year old Craftsman, or sleep in a room with six of his 30 year old college buddies, or wants to rent in something that used to be motel for visitors to the Ballard Locks.

    So then you’re talking about modern professionals who expect an apartment complex to be something like a modern upscale hotel. In that case, these new units are competing only with one another, so their “bracket” is much higher, elevating the average price.

    By the way, Seattle has so much old crappy housing stock, I wonder at what point the whole Residential Infrastructure begins to crumble and rot.

    1. Speaking of apartment amenities…

      Real estate developer Vito Cardinale said he has a vision for the future of living in New Jersey, and it doesn’t involve a backyard or a white picket fence.

      …his vision, bringing a downtown to the middle of suburban sprawl. Apartments above stores and restaurants, a brain research facility and even an amphitheater that doubles as a skating rink in the winter is what he sees, likening it to Pier Village in Long Branch.

      “You can come down (from your apartment) and walk to the dry cleaner, walk to cafes. … They want that life,” said Cardinale of Cardinale Enterprises.

      “They” in this case refers the community’s targets of millennials – people from ages of 20 to 35 who don’t have children – or empty nesters who are looking for more convenience as they get older.

  2. We should definitely unbundle parking stalls from rent, by law, and get out of the business of forcing minimum stall requirements.

    But I wouldn’t ban the bundling of laundry facilities.

    One of the dumb conclusions I’ve seen NIMBY’s trot out time and time again is that new housing construction is pushing rent up for everyone. Yes, it is pushing average reported rent up in the short run, but that’s because new units rent for more, as they obviously should. But that doesn’t mean those already renting in older apartments or informal shared housing or seeing their rent go up because of it. If anything, some pressure is being released on the rest in older units as supply increases, regardless of the rental rate of that new supply.

    And of course, a lot of that increasingly common informal shared housing is not part of the average-rent calculation. But the informal shared housing is increasing its share of the rental population.

    Nor is rent for people sleeping in their own cars or motor homes part of the calculation. Nor in tents, nor on slabs of cardboard on someone else’s property. But if you want an honest average-rent figure, you can’t just look at formal renters who have leasing or rental agreements with formal apartments.

    I would suggest that the number one cause of rising formal rent is the illegalization of formal or informal shared housing and the legal requirement of a permanent roof over your head, as an amenity.

    1. And this is why the first-year college Econ survey classes taught by ideologues have done so much damage across the political spectrum.

      In spite of any purist’s assumptions about unit fungibility or natural tendencies toward equilibrium, what you claim cannot happen to older units has demonstrably been happening to older units. Speculators have purchased swaths of older and crappier housing stock, in anticipation of eventual upgrade and replacement, and then as much as tripled rents — with no tangible improvements performed. The justification tends to be the purchase price, which, again, sits at a level reflecting speculative value more than real value, but which nevertheless requires exorbitance in order to pay off a mortgage that simply did not exist before the title transfer. Arbitrary rent tripling also suggests an intentional purge of long-time residents, so as to bring in a wealthier yet less worldly demographic new to the city and thus oblivious to the relative exorbitance of the prices even by the standards of the location.

      The fate of aging housing stock is a parallel conversation to the one about amenities-as-disproportionate-inflators — older stock rarely has amenities at all — but both should remind housing and urban advocates not to pretend that “rational self-interest” is especially rational, or that the aggregate effect of many irrational decisions is somehow a rational sector.

      $1600 motel-quality studios on hideous stretches of Crown Hill is not the market-corrected outcome you were looking for.

      1. One counter to this that may be legal under the state ban on rent controls would be to have rent increases over a certain amount trigger the city’s relocation assistance program.

        It is clear to me that in certain cases huge rent increases are a way for some building owners to evade the city’s restrictions on evictions. Let’s stop giving the owners the loophole as much as possible.

      2. Thanks, d.p., for most accurate description yet of the way I had to leave the home my late wife first rented 20 years ago. Spot on, every single miserable point.

        Only mistake: over all the years, the term “crappy” never applied to Lock Haven until our excellent landlord, a professor who saw the place as his kids’ inheritance, was forced to sell it. To someone with the opposite priorities.

        Weight room bans tempting. But remembering places I’ve lived in and loved, better remedy might be building codes steered toward long structural life and maximum versatility.

        Meaning healthy space for people to occupy for many different uses over a very long time. Solid. Quiet. Well ventilated and lighted. Safe access. Reason many decades-old factory buildings bring such high residential prices now.

        And also an economy and a government that let the average person earn enough money to allow a meaningful choice about weight rooms and saunas.

        For starters, might be good for industry, and government if necessary, to create a residential sector of durable, comfortable, simple, weight room free and close to transit. Add typical small washer-dryer sets every apartment, and see what “the market” does.


      3. If an older building is purchased, and the new landlord can triple the rates and get those new rates, the previous landlord was sure leaving a lot of dollars on the table.

        Seattle’s a hot market right now, demand is huge (meaning rents and prices are rising), considerable efforts on the part of developers is trying to meet (or cash in depending on how you want to describe it) this demand with more dwellings but that isn’t satisfying the demand yet.

        This isn’t ideological economics, it is just economics.

      4. The greatest coup the far right ever pulled was convincing the mainstream that economics was a “hard science”.

        And where did you get the idea that rent-seeking flippers and deeply indebted megablock-development LLCs are filling up their overpriced units, much less modifying prices to reach the supply-demand equilibrium that free-marketers falsely presume to be inevitable?

        In real estate bubbles, aspirational property holders effectively act as a monopoly/cartel, whereas individual “demanders”, in need of shelter, have effectively no individual or collective bargaining power even when asking prices are unsustainable. If large numbers are coerced into paying more for housing than they genuinely believe that housing is worth, and numerous units sit empty while others scrounge for shelter, your supposed “free market” has capsized.

        To be logically consistent, those who argue against any parameters for housing valuations based on a common good must also revert to the libertarian fiction that plebs enjoy a “liberty of contract” when they do back-breaking work for company-store scrip with no job security or health insurance. The relative “liberty” of the transactional parties is roughly the same.

      5. But it’s a chicken and egg problem, no? Speculators wouldn’t be able to get away with such behavior in markets that weren’t supply-constrained? Under that circumstance, they’d lose their metaphorical shirts.

      6. No, because that’s your unwarranted faith in perfect elasticity lying to you.

        A libertarian’s-paradise housing market does not prevent the finite cadre of lending agents from favoring large multi-lot projects, assembled at great expense and compounding market distortions with each acquisition, and then requiring habit-formed design specifications (including subterranean parking oversupply, indifference to the enduser experience in design quality or layout, and lack of flexibility at the ground level) as a condition of financing, while demanding inflated unit prices and a “luxury” market positioning just to meet minimum mortgage payments.

        There are many regulatory restrictions that we would be wise to lift — most of all the overextended “urban village” growth quarantines that have virtually guaranteed the replacement of viable housing stock in the 12% of this city allowed to evolve at all. But I’m tired of supposed urbanists labeling anyone who finds value in presently-functioning urban places as NIMBYs because we don’t buy into the pure-marketist bean-counting. No, those thirty units you added at such great capital expense that the other 100 units tripled in price emphatically did not lower the mean price in any narrowly or widely defined area! Each and every one of those thirty extra renters is now paying a price that has been inflated entirely by artifice. Nothing pure about that.

        If we want quality outcomes that yield functional, abundant density — the specifications of which are not a mystery — we’re going to have to legislate for that. The notion that all we need to do is give developers and their associated deep pockets free reign across swaths of the city, then sit back and watch the market fix all of our problems, is not borne out by reality.

    2. Or the existing owners are just jacking up rents because an expensive new building is near by, so “it’s a better neighborhood”. That has happened several times around Summit where I’ve lived the last ten years and heard from my neighbors. The only way landlords can get away with this is if there’s a housing shortage, because otherwise tenants can move to a nicer unit with a more reasonable rent, as several did when my first building raised the studio rent $150. Did I mention the hot water was unreliable?

      1. They get away with it because moving is a pain, because housing-sector decision-making is especially irrational, and because units are finite and exceptionally non-fungible.

        i.e. They get away with it for only bad and/or unsustainable reasons.

    3. You can think of amenities as using up space for apartments.

      Or, you can look at amenities as saving space by making apartments attractive to people who might not consider them.

      For example, right now I’m repairing my bike’s rear shifter cable. I’ve got my bike half assembled out on the balcony, the cable laid out on my couch, all the little bitty screws on my glass top coffee table, and all my tools on the Coleman folding picnic table that serves in my dining area.

      How about a common tool room and workshed as an amenity?

  3. When I first read the title, I assumed this was joke, but when I scrolled down, it looked like the author was actually serious…so I need to make a rebuttal.

    First, notice that the fitness facility pictured is an interior room, with no windows. That’s because people want apartments on the edge of the building, with windows, which begs the question of what the developer should do with the interior space. A fitness facility is a perfectly reasonable use of such low-value interior space.

    One could make a similar argument about parking, except that parking spaces require special consideration for allow enough maneuvering room for large SUV’s to get in and out. A fitness facility, by contrast, needs doors and aisles only wide enough for people. It can also go on any level of the building without the expense of giant ramps to connect it to the ground.

    One may ask the question about whether bundling it should be a separate, public facility, rather than bundled with the rent. Again, the answer is – it depends. Many people see an on-site resident-only gym as a perk they are willing to pay for. There are also real security issues to opening up the fitness facility to outside people if they have to travel through the building to get to it – especially if the goal is to have the fitness facility open to residents 24/7.

    Overall, I see no reason to regulate something like this on the city level. It should be up to each developer to research the market, make appropriate decisions, and live with the consequences if those decisions prove incorrect.

    1. I agree. Besides, the biggest problem with our current zoning laws are that they are over regulated, not under regulated. I could see this regulation actually backfiring, and resulting in fewer units. As you say, a gym that is limited to tenants may be more valuable than an open gym. If so, then this is bonus space that would otherwise be wasted. So, basically, if it only makes sense (because of costs that have little to do with a gym) to only build when you can get X amount per unit, and having a gym increases the chance of getting X amount, then you simply delay the day the building is constructed (until people will pay X amount without a gym). If you want cheap rent, I don’t think this is good. Anyone can see that many a builder wasted their money on a pool (which sits empty all year) in a suburban apartment building. But rent there is cheap, because builders overbuilt. The same is more likely to happen with less restrictions. Let the builder build, assuming demand will continue forever, and people will pay huge amounts because a place has a gym. With any luck we’ll get a nice bubble and all those places will be cheaper again.

    2. That’s a full-sized gym. Only a super-luxury apartment would have that. A regular apartment gym would be one or two multipurpose machines, a couple cardio machines, and maybe a bench and dumbbells.

      1. The wikimedia link says that it’s inside a gym in Berkeley Heights, NJ, so probably not inside an apartment at all.

    3. An “interior room” often implies a big footprint. We would do well to have more narrow-but-tall buildings.

      But again, if you actually read the post the proposal is not to actually ban the use of this space for amenities but to open them to the public. There seem to be externalities here that make “let the market decide” an unsatisfactory mantra.

      1. You do realize this is essentially mandating ground-floor retail? Because what business in their right mind is going to set up shop inside a nondescript apartment building in the middle of a condo neighborhood?

        And if we’ve seen anything from Seattle’s mixed-use explosion, it’s an abundance of vacant ground floor retail.

      2. Don’t hide behind “I don’t want to ban these, I just want to make them separate from rental contracts.” Many of these “amenities” are on the second or third floor of apartment buildings. A party room on the second floor of an apartment building does not make sense as a standalone business. It just doesn’t. By requiring that these be operated and rented separately, you’re basically banning them.

        I don’t think this type of amenity is nearly harmful or ubiquitous enough to be worth regulating out of existence. Plenty of apartments without them do exist, and more are being built all the time.

      3. Exactly, Eric. Most of these facilities are beyond the security perimeter of the building; some as far away as the roof/penthouse, others actually below grade. Most buildings use their ground floors as live/work spaces (lofts) or retail (where mandated or conducive). These are considered amenities by enough people that developers find it reasonable to include them (same with silly things like dog walking areas on rooftops in five-story buildings with walkable residential streets around them, though these are often getting “value engineered” out much as swimming pools were 30 years ago). Building footprints often have odd shapes and sizes due to lot size, zoning requirements etc. and spaces like gyms, common rooms and “theatres” are often good ways to use leftover spaces to provide a perceived value at little cost.

        Hate them, love them or whatever, developers aren’t in the habit of adding things to already expensive projects just because. They do their market research, and that research says that there is enough demand for basically private 24/7 gym spaces that are almost no cost to the developer. That’s not just in Seattle–I’m familiar with these places being built from Doha to South Carolina.

      4. Ground floor retail rents are a mystery to me. Why are rents going up if there is such a glut of space?

        Every week, it seems, at least one of the neighborhood blogs has a story about “beloved small business that is closing because of rent increases.” But, new developments seem to have unleased retail spaces. With a lot of space available, rents should be falling or at least stable.

        Are small business owners not totally honest when they say that rent increases are driving them out? I suspect internet retail has severely damaged local shops (though services would be less affected). Are building owners stupidly raising rents to uneconomic levels? Is there actually less retail space than we think there is?

  4. A lot of amenities are in dead space that nobody would live in. Roof decks don’t trade off with anything- the roof will obviously exist regardless.

    Exercise rooms are often in undesirable spaces and all my building’s storage units are in the basement. A stackable laundry unit takes up maybe 10 square feet.

    Finally, new units are a lot smaller than old ones. No more 750 square foot one bedrooms. You’re lucky to see 650 in a new building and sub-600 units are common. Even a lot of amenities wouldn’t offset the smaller unit sizes.

      1. They could. But in my building they were almost 100% leased last I checked. We also have a wait list for garage parking despite it costing $180/month (and I’m expecting a increase in the near future).

        Perhaps these developers just did a better job demand forecasting than others. Yes they’re expensive, but arguably that is because the land costs so much to acquire.

  5. Some of the developers who are currently building apartments in Seattle are undoubtably looking down the road and building these as condo-convertible. Hence the high end amenities and condo finishes, because this is what you would need if you intended to convert the building to condos in the future.

    So limit the construction of these kinds of buildings and you might just see a reduction in total construction, or a conversion to condo construction upfront with even higher prices and even richer clientele.

    Na. Leave the tricking free market alone. If you want to encourage construction of low end apartments, or three bedroom apartments aimed at families, then find a way to incentivize their construction. But don’t try to get A by eliminating or restricting B. Because you are likely to get something else entirely.

    1. I agree with you that these developers are likely planning ahead for an upcoming conversion to condos, but in your scenario these would be upper-middle to high-end condos.

      Is there any reason why we can’t have middle-class or working class condos? That’s very common in the city centres of Europe…and I think it is at the heart of a robust American vision of urbanism. By undbundling amenities from each other and the apartment, we not only lower the contemporary rental fee, but the eventual condo price itself. You would then have housing stock that meets the full range of incomes, from high-end to low.

      1. I think convincing developers to build low end condos would be even more difficult than convincing developers to build low end apartments.

    2. Much more critical to a conversion project than the interior finishes (which would probably be changed out anyway if the conversion was more than a few years after construction) are the terms of the WA State Condo Act. This mandates certain air and water leakage design criteria (among other things) that require much better detailing that one can get away with in an apartment. Many developers are choosing to follow the act even when building apartments that they do not intend to convert, as the costs typically are quite high to bring an existing building into compliance. The costs are certainly higher to build the envelope to condo specs than apartments anyway, but it’s a cost that creates flexibility and higher resale value should the developer want to sell the building later.

      In brief, all else being equal it will always be cheaper to build an apartment building that will not be converted to condos than to build a condominium–or a building that can be converted.

  6. I think this suggestion is a bit ridiculous. Not all new buildings have this stuff. Smaller buildings usually don’t. Apodments don’t. It’s really just the big luxury towers that have the party rooms, fitness centers, etc. Sure, you could replace one floor of “amenities” with an additional floor of apartments, but doing that in a 30-story building isn’t going to affect the overall housing supply very much at all.

    In addition, since we have so many buildings that have this stuff already, banning it in new construction would only make it harder for new buildings to compete with the old ones, making new development less lucrative and therefore less likely to happen.

    At some point the developers are going to meet the demand for fancier housing. When that happens, they’ll set their sights on more middle-income units and will probably skip much of the fancy stuff. Until then, let the fancy apartments be as fancy as they want.

    On the positive side, I’ve been to a couple of these communal party rooms. They’re pretty nice. If their existence means the residents are happy with a smaller apartment that isn’t large enough to host a big gathering, it’s entirely likely that the party room means the developers can put more units in the building than they would be able to without.

    1. I don’t think Martin’s point was to “free up space” for additional apartments that would add to the overall supply and (in a very academic sense) lead to lower rent increases.

      The point was to ban developers from loading up on mandatory amenities that would then be used to justify a high overall rent fee. Instead, you would pay a lower rate for your apartment, and then could purchase these amenities (either in the same building or nearby in your walkable, urban-village neighborhood) cafeteria-style. That makes the market more responsive to actual demand, instead of bundling services inordinately. The end results are A) lower rents, B) amenities that cater to the broader neighborhood thereby making it more interactive and community-oriented, and C) perhaps lower fees for those amenities that are housed in your apartment building, since you would be their natural core customer base.

      1. Anon,

        Thanks for reading the post rather than overreacting to an admittedly inflammatory title.

      2. I don’t appreciate the insinuation that I didn’t read the post. I most certainly did read it. I simply disagree that it’s a good idea. There’s room for diversity in the housing market. Some apartments have a fitness center available for residents at no extra charge. Others don’t. Some apartments have utilities included in the rent. Others don’t. This is okay!

        Why should an adult not have the right to choose to rent access to an apartment and a party room in the same transaction? Again, only some apartments have these things. If you wish to pay less for an apartment, you’ll probably have better luck in a building with fewer amenities.

  7. Love the title ” Is It Time to Ban Amenities?”

    Yes lets ban amenities. Here are my suggestions.

    No smoke detectors
    No electricity
    No running water
    No elevators
    No windows

    All we need are secure closets to sleep in right?
    Im looking forward to my 100$ a month rent…

  8. For what it’s worth, a Seattle Times column last Thursday by Gene Balk (page B1) told the story of some longtime “Class C” properties like the El Capitan apartments on Capitol Hill and how many of them seem to be surviving (without savage rent increases) in an era of “Class A” assumptions.

    1. Well, the assumption that all new construction goes to people who want to pay $5000 a month is just ludicrous, especially when taking the whole region into account.

      If anything new construction methods are making building faster, quicker…and better, than ever before.

      Multifamily Embraces Modular Construction

      It only took 47 days to construct 65 apartments at Hilltop House, a new modular multifamily development in Winston-Salem, N.C. That includes 36 days for Champion Home Builders Inc., to create 52 modules in one of its factories and just 11 days to set the modules in place on a tiny site in Winston-Salem’s historic downtown. Six months later, in early 2014, the community, which includes both conventional and modular construction, was open for occupancy.

      If this state were managed by anyone but NWBS (No Where But Seattle), we would be acquiring land through increase property taxes, to get the Hogs to sell out and throwing up a combination of these types of multifamily house, in a small town like design (see above) and hooking them all up with fast regional rail transit.

      And we can do it in a matter of a few years, not decades!

  9. Wow, this is an awful idea. I, too, live in a new Belltown building with the “amenities” people love to hate. But, I’m willing to pay for them, which is why I decided to move into this building. Nobody forced me to.

    As for bundling, much of my building is already “un-bundled.” You only pay for car parking if you want it. You only pay for the bike room if you want it. You only pay for a rooftop p-patch if you want it. Regulating amenities is a solution in search of a problem.

    If you’re arguing that amenities take up space that could otherwise be filled with more apartments, then your real concern is height limits, not amenities. The developer of this building did the math and decided that residents would be willing to pay enough extra for a shared gym that it would be more profitable to build a gym than turning that space into one more apartment. But if you really want room for more units, then let the buildings be taller so that buildings can have whatever amenities the residents are willing to pay for AND more residents.

    As for bundling, the best way to present residents with a range of choices is to give them a wide variety of buildings to chose from. Some of the buildings I visited before selecting this one had a gym, others didn’t. Some had a shared lounge for guests to use, others didn’t. You don’t need regulations to make that happen – just step back and let the market give people a range of options.

    We do have a housing crisis in this city. Our homeless population suffers every day. I’m a strong supporter of Ed Murray’s goal to build 50,000 more units in the next ten years. But the units won’t build themselves. Developers (the new boogeyman) must be part of that solution. Even “amenities” (the even newer boogeyman) must be part of that solution. If there’s demand for amenities (and there obviously is, or no-one would build them), then that means developers who choose to build them can earn a higher return on their investment. That, in turn, attracts capital from outside the city to construct even more units here. A surprising amount of our new buildings have been sponsored by foreign investors, since the US economy has been stronger than almost any other in the last few years. Those investors don’t have to be spending money here, and if we cap what they build (and earn), then they’ll invest somewhere else instead. And then we get fewer new units, and we’re even further away from solving our city’s housing crisis.

    To be sure, publicly-funded affordable housing must be part of the solution. But privately-funded (un)affordable housing must be part of the solution too. We can’t regulate our way out of this mess. We have to unleash the market and allow our city to GROW out of this mess. We’ve tried to cap growth for the last 40 years. That plan is what got us here in the first place.

    Finally, tying this all back to transit, our tech industry has added thousands of jobs every year. New people are coming, no matter what we do about it. If we don’t let them move into new buildings, in the city, then they’ll just be moving into new buildings in the suburbs. And if that’s the case, then there will be that many more people trying to fit into I-5 every day.

    Long answer to a quick question. Is it time to ban amenities? No.

  10. I’m not sure a ban is exactly the answer, but… the cautionary tale is Silicon Valley. In vast single-use office parks there are more corporate cafes and weight rooms than public restaurants and gyms. And even corporate social and interest groups. A multitude of middle-of-the-road places and settings that have to be adequate for everyone. Sure, lots of great stuff exists in the Valley, but any one thing is likely a long drive from where you are. And it comes back around and reinforces itself: any company has to provide these amenities or its employees won’t be able to find them conveniently, even though they have nothing to do with the company’s business.

    1. In South Lake Union a few months ago I walked past a restaurant, windows looking out the sidewalk, full of people- except with no signage and no way to get in. I asked somebody about it. Answer: It’s a corporate cafeteria”

      On the one hand-private property has its rights. But on the other, if I ran a corporation, I’d keep the place open to the public, and give my employees breaks on the price.

      Nothing to lose. Huge PR benefit. I could even put my logo on the coffee cups and put them on sale, and also use logo for trademarked brand of extremely expensive espresso. Also name food offerings after mhy board of directors.

      Instead of gut reactions like mine: need zoning ordinance that if people on the sidewalk think my your lunch room looks like a restaurant it’s best for the community, as well as me- to spring for a bigger door and open it.


      1. Having a corporate cafeteria closed to the public is not just about giving employees a break on price. It’s also about preserving the company’s secrets and intellectual property. A closed cafeteria means people can talk about business while they eat without people overhearing who are not under the company’s NDA.

  11. Yeah, I don’t think this makes any sense – amenities are one of the big perks of dense living spaces. You might have to give up the backyard barbecue to live in a walkable neighborhood, but if you can use one on the roof of a 30 story building, well, that’s pretty darned nice. A house in the suburbs might come with a hot tub, but an apartment can come with a whole sauna – and it’s way more energy efficient, because you aren’t keeping the whole thing hot for just one person.

    I just don’t see the evil in giving these things to people who want them, especially when it increases urbanism, nor do I see a problem with them being private. People own single family houses so that they have their own indoor and outdoor space, set up how they like it. It’s tremendously wasteful, because that space is so underutilized, but people have and make that choice. Urbanism requires giving up a lot of that space for more shared spaces – public parks instead of a back yard, a gym instead of a home gym, a restaurant instead of a dream kitchen. Amenities provide a welcome middle ground, allowing several people to share a patio, but not so many that it becomes hard to keep it clean, find a chair, leave your kindle on the coffee table while you go get a drink and some sunscreen, and expect to find it, and your chair, as you left them.

    (Also, amenities are not just in downtown luxury condo towers – plenty of suburban apartments, of the sort that LINK will live or die by, have less luxurious versions of the same amenities.)

    1. More to the point – do we want the people who make six figure salaries in the tech industry to live in a luxury condo downtown, or a big house in Bellevue? Do we want the pressure to be on Microsoft to move to or make someplace more urban, so their employees don’t have to commute so far, or on Amazon to move someplace more suburban, so their employees can drive more comfortably?

      What I’m saying is, we need to build affordable housing, absolutely, and I’m all for taxing luxury condos to help make that happen, but banning certain types of luxury amounts to “we want density, just not of rich people.” The environmental effects of wealthy suburbs are just as bad as (actually, usually way worse than, per capita) the effects of middle income suburbs. The solution is not to push the wealthy out, but to bring the poor and middle income in.

    2. Yes, to some extent we want six-figure workers to live in density rather than in an exurban McMansion. But we don’t want them to take up all the walkable housing in Seattle, thus pushing $50K workers or $30K workers to the outer edges of the city or car-dependent suburbs. Of course, we could fix that on the Seattle end by upzoning, converting single-family blocks near major transit stops, and allowing ADUs everywhere. But converting single-family blocks is very difficult. But luckily our Eastside tech mavens don’t have to go to Seattle to find density because downtown Bellevue has it too. And we also want people to live on the same side of the lake as where they work if feasable. So we’re really talking about Seattle six-figure workers and Seattle five-figure workers.

      (Note: Seattle’s $15 minimum wage is $30.2K, which minus 33% taxes leaves $20.2K. That divided by 12 is $1688/month, which divided by 3 qualifies for a $562 apartment/room.)

    3. More generally, the suburbs used to be where only the 1% lived or had a part-time house, and farmers who essentially worked at home or on neighbors’ properties. It was too expensive and time-consuming for ordinary townspeople to live that far out so they didn’t. We have to get back to something like that situation, where it’s easy to live in the city, and only people who can easily afford it are living in car-dependent areas. At that point I don’t care as much if a six-figure muckymuck is living in sprawlsville. I care more about how he’s mitigating his carbon footprint, and about taxes to compensate for the externalized costs of his house, than I am about whether he lives there or in a downtown condo.

  12. Here in Bellevue, there’s an apartment complex in Crossroads called The Madison Bellevue, that used to be called the Lamplighter, on the corner of 8th and 156th, across from the Crossroads mall. Before Microsoft, it was an affordable, even lower-income apartment complex with two swimming pools. Today, the rents start around $1500/month, the removed both the swimming pools, there’s no gym, and they are currently building new buildings where there used to be open space on the property. So at least in this case, they are self-banning their amenities, and still raising the rents.

  13. Developers aren’t targeting the high end out of choice, but rather necessity dictated by construction (and land) costs. Unless you build apodment sized units, he price point needed to justify construction hit $1400+, no matter the economies of scale or how mediocre the design. Energy code requirements, labor costs in a heated market, materials hauling and disposal with Seattle traffic, lifting and staging costs (lots of tight sites), design review process, incentive zoning fees (where needed), green factor, retail requirements even where market is iffy, parking location and screening, sales tax on construction…I could go on. These are just Seattle-specific considerations. So, if you have a large building, the marginal cost to add a couple bells and whistles like a workout room so that you can market “luxury” and compete better in the market is minimal. In addition, developers would love to see amenities regulated out of existence- less cost and no competitive disadvantage. The losers would be the urban dwellers with less incentive to live in dense environments.

  14. Before Jane Jacobs fled north to Canada(for political reasons to do with her draft-eligable boys) there was an affordable project built in the west Village. To be affordable capped at six-stories with NO elevators. That was the law then. No ADA requirements. Times have changed.

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