Oh DADUs, we just can't quit you
DADUs in the city

Backyard cottages are popular in theory, yet few homeowners end up building them.  Just 221 have been built in the nine years that they’ve been legal(far fewer than Vancouver), despite the fact that 75,000 lots in the city are eligible to have one. Councilmember Mike O’Brien, whose been on the cottage beat for several years now., is looking to increase production with a slate of reforms that would streamline the construction of backyard cottages or DADUs (that’s Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit).  You can read more from Stephen at the Urbanist here or Erica on her site.  Even Knute Berger’s on board.

Along with some simplifications to the code (like normalizing height limits and where front doors are allowed to be placed), there are two headline changes.  The first would remove the off-street parking requirement for DADUs inside urban villages. Requiring two off-street spaces for car storage drastically reduces the available space for a cottage.  Furthermore, under current law, one can currently build an apartment building or townhouse development inside an urban village without parking, but a DADU property in the same urban village must have 2 off-street spaces.  Fixing this imbalance is common sense. Lest anyone worry about an impending parking crisis, the report notes that, in Portland, 2/3 of cottage dwellers don’t park cars on the street, even though there’s no requirement to provide them with parking.

The second big change would lower the owner-occupancy requirement to 12 months.  After that, the owner  would be free to rent out both units.  This would remove some economic uncertainty around resale and possibly make banks more willing to finance DADU construction.

The original owner-occupancy requirement comes from homeowners fearing hordes of renters descending on their neighborhoods.  But this fear seems overblown, even if you set aside the ugly “renters are less-than” rhetoric that undergirds some of these conversations.  It may shock many of these folks to learn that it’s currently legal to rent a house in a single family neighborhood. Believe it or not, its a popular option for groups of young (and not-so-young) people. They have chore wheels and everything.

At any rate, managing detached home rentals turns out to be quite labor-intensive and generally unappealing to large institutional investors. It’s unlikely we’ll see a rush of big developers looking to flood the city with backyard cottages.

Nonetheless, this package of reforms makes a ton of sense, and even though it’s incredibly mild and a huge walk-down from the original HALA proposal, it will likely still generate lots of anger from a few loud homeowners.  It’s worth emailing city council and letting them know you support it.

82 Replies to “Smarter Rules for Backyard Cottages”

  1. All this political energy, for how many housing units? Mike says these changes could lead to “thousands,” but I’m really having a hard time seeing how these things pencil out for that many homeowners. It’s a really nice model that at least moves the needle on allowing the middle class to have an outside chance at living in single-family zones, but the scale of these things is really trivial considering the immensity of the affordability crisis that gets worse by the month.

    It’s a shame that the Overton window on density in single-family zones has moved so far to the right that this is all we’re going to get.

    1. Dear Reader,
      Please consider looking at the Whole picture. This prevents homelessness and gives to tax base. Maybe you enjoy skyrocketing shelter costs and increased taxes a used by tax payers footing the bill to build apartment buildings for homeless people!

      1. I am for backyard cottages, but can you explain how they will prevent homelessness? Even if they built, in one year, 10x the amount of cottages they built in the last NINE years, you wouldn’t be able to house all the homeless in Seattle. The tax revenue these theoretical cottages bring in could be put 100% towards solving homelessness and would put but a dent in the homeless problem (assume $4000/yr x 2000 = $8,000,000).

    2. If 75,000 lots are eligible, and if a quarter of those are built over a thirty year period, that’s 18,750 lots. It’s not enough to solve the housing problem but it’s enough to make a difference. It also gives people more choices about the type of housing they want to live in. Some people don’t like apartments but would like an ADU. Especially if the owner allows them to use part of the yard as their own garden. For owners it gives a way to have grandma or young-adult kids close by but not in the main house. For both owners and renters it can be a lower-cost solution than an apartment. You can build an ADU or Tiny House for less than $100K, and many people can finance that from their savings or a small loan. No developer or big financing required. So if it costs the owner less to build, they might be willing to pass the savings on to renters. Maybe some of them won’t, but some of them will.

      1. Mike,

        Don’t forget Zillow estimated in 2015 that 13% of Seattle homeowners were underwater on their mortgage. And the appetite just isn’t as big as we think it is, with many of the folks who are in the black on their loans only recently becoming so as home values appreciated rapidly these last few years. A lot people aren’t eager to add $100k to their loan balance.

        Obviously we should make building these easier, but we should be a little more realistic as to the impact these will have on our housing crisis in the short term.

      2. Please do your research people. Your options are vast! You can build it yourself or hire a company to build it for you for under $ 20,000. One can also buy a garden Shed and add insulation etc. For less than that.
        Additionally, there are pieces of land available statewide for under $ 10,000.
        Investing in knowledge is paramount to success. Sustainable development of affordable living is worth it!

      3. @Victoria:

        1. Anything built for under $20,000 in Seattle, and certainly anything made out of a garden shed, is going to have a “creative” kitchen and bathroom situation, which would limit appeal significantly. In today’s market you can rent just about anything, but if demand is lower in a decade a cheaply built cottage like that would be a liability for sure.

        2. After you build and rent it you have an extra job managing a rental property! And it’s literally in your own backyard! There’s a lot of work and a bit of risk involved, and I doubt that a full quarter of Seattle homeowners want to take that on.

        3. “Pieces of land available statewide for under $10,000” have zero overlap with Seattle DADU situations. They might be relevant for building a house to live in yourself, which is fine for people that don’t need to live any particular place…

      4. Don’t get me wrong – I see the appeal. Almost rented a DADU in Fremont myself a couple years back.

        But I just don’t see 25% of households doing this, and of those that do I think a majority will use it for the elderly parent/unemployed kid contingent, which isn’t really taking all that much pressure off the rental market. How long do you have to rent these out at market rate before you make up your initial investment? 10 years? How many single family homeowners in Seattle are in a place financially where the extra rent income is that appealing to them? Being a landlord kind of blows – people don’t get into it for fun.

        Don’t get me wrong, DADU/ADU liberalization is a great idea, I just think people are really overestimating their impact on the affordability crisis.

      5. The series that Alan Durning did on housing (http://www.sightline.org/series/legalizing-inexpensive-housing/) suggest that it could have a huge impact. He covers a lot of subjects, but it is obvious that this is where we have the greatest potential for growth. We actually have fairly liberal laws when it comes to boarding houses, for example. But compared to Vancouver, our ADU laws are very restrictive. Vancouver has grown (doubled in many cases) in their single family zoned areas, and we have the potential for similar growth as well (this is covered in articles 8, 9 and 10).

        The main thing is that the laws have to change, so that you don’t have the problem you describe (owners being landlords, etc.). Of course this wouldn’t mean a dramatic change overnight. But that is true for everything in the city. Just because you change the zoning in a neighborhood, doesn’t mean the owner will sell.

      6. Vancouver is an example that the Sightline articles use. There, 35% of SF homes have created ADUs of some type. Hitting 25% in Seattle, especially with the many spacious basements that our houses have, seems like an attainable goal.

    3. ADUs are relatively inexpensive to construct. If even 1000 units per year are built it is a good sized dent in the total new housing Seattle needs to build every year. Even better it is in a form that doesn’t bring out pitchforks and torches from single family homeowners.

      DADUs probably won’t be built at the same rate, but they are actually attractive to many homeowners. The two people I know who are building one plan to live in the DADU and rent out the main house.

    4. What Mike said. This could add a significant number of units. These are also likely to be the cheapest units to build, which means they put downward pressure on rents in general. If we encounter a bubble (and rents actually drop) these are the types of things that still get built, which could keep rents low.

  2. I wrote a post for The Urbanist asking to let us build DADUs, but at this point.. I’m starting to lose interest. I’ve wanted to build a DADU for over 2 years now, and we’re JUST now starting to talk about sensible legislation (and even that is a big compromise). At this point I’m ready to give up and make other plans.

    1. You could always try civil disobedience, and dare the city to stop you from providing affordable housing. ;)

      1. The fines are pretty severe; from cam606.pdf from DPD, it looks like $30k per month. I’m not wiling to waste that money.

        Also, if I’m going to do some civil disobedience, it’s going to be for something transportation-related.. :)

      2. Andres,
        There are many un-permitted ADUs and DADUs in Seattle. The trick seems to be to get permits to build whatever you are doing as guest quarters then quietly rent it out once all the construction and inspections are done. (The other option is to have a unit that was built before there was a ban on ADU and DADU, note these are supposed to be registered with the city, but most aren’t)

    2. Dear Andreas,
      It’s time to gather your resources and begin. Check out Youtube.com, tinyhomes.com, there are blogs on Pinterest. Some tiny home up for sale!
      Currently there is oNE for sale in Graham, WA.

    3. You may be able to build a tiny house like the one in West Seattle. (Far south, east of 35th, in a single family block.) I don’t remember the name but they had an open house and said it would be available for short-term rentals. You just have to have it formally on wheels so that it falls under the “RV” regulations rather than the “house” regulations. And there may be a maximum period you can formally live in it per year, but if the neighbors don’t complain the city is unlikely to care.

      1. I think folks are missing the point. Yes, I could break the law (and a number of people who support the owner-occ requirements have told me to do just that). Yes, I could add an ugly RV to my backyard. But why? I’m not going to spend a bunch of money just to risk legal issues down the road, or to have something on the property that actually brings the property values down. That’s just not worth my time or money. Instead, I could just buy a few units in an existing condo and move in there. Or buy an existing duplex. I make (tax-free; thanks Uncle Sam!) money off the sale of my house, I help lower the number of housing units available (further driving up housing costs), and there’s no risk to my family’s finances. If Seattle politicians are too weak to actually fix these stupid laws, that’s on them.

      2. I spend way too much time on (sustainable) transportation advocacy already. I don’t have the time or energy to do it for housing as well.

      3. C’mon, y’all, it’s a lot easier to cheer on others to action than to do it yourself. If Andres doesn’t want to take a significant risk to break or skirt the law on this issue, that’s pretty darn reasonable on his part. If he gets caught (after publicly discussing it on a public forum!) that’s probably not such a great situation for his tenants, either!

      4. “I could add an ugly RV to my backyard.”

        Not a fiberglass RV. A wooden house or whatever you want to make it from. People who do this usually build a custom house that matches their aesthetic, and they painstakingly make the details high quality. Or you can buy a premanufactured or predesigned house, which can look just as beautiful as a regular house. It’s not an RV, it just meets the legal definition of an RV in zoning, hence the wheels. Moving it often requires a flatbed truck, so people don’t move it any more than they’d move to a new regular house. The “tiny house” part is that it’s small. There’s no universal size cutoff but I’ve seen them down to 50 sq ft and up to 500 sq ft. The smallest options require an exterior bathroom and kitchen (in the main house), or boat-derived facilities, or maybe a composting toilet, or a “wet bath” (a showerhead in the ceiling so the room doubles as a shower and bathroom, with curtains over the toilet and other things you want to keep dry). A larger house lets you to use normal-sized facilities, such as a full-sized sink and toilet, or a 6′ kitchen counter if that’s important to you.

        “Instead, I could just buy a few units in an existing condo and move in there. Or buy an existing duplex.”

        A tiny house costs a third of a $300K condo. An existing duplex, if you can find one, would be $600K on up, judging from an old restaurant/house I saw on Rainier & Othello that’s about the size of a duplex.

      5. Thanks, Al.

        Mike, none of the options you listed sound very appealing compared to an 800sf DADU. The Zillow estimate for my house is close to $800k (and it’s < 1mi from the future Roosevelt light rail station, so I anticipate its desirability going up drastically). I could waste money on a psuedo-DADU that doesn't actually fit my needs and possibly devalues the property, or I could sell and easily afford the duplex/condos that I mentioned. Or Seattle could get its act together and fix its ADU laws. I'd really like that to happen, but I'm no longer optimistic that it'll happen in a time frame that works for my family.

      6. @Andres — That is exactly the type of thing this legislation is supposed to address. What is your opinion of this? Does it still not go far enough? Is it a big step in the right direction?

      7. Ross, it’s a HUGE step in the right direction. It just doesn’t go far enough, in my opinion. Basically, this sums up my opinion:


        That said, if O’Brien’s proposal passed RIGHT NOW, I’d probably start building. However, given that it’s watered down from the original proposal, and there’s no ETA for when it’ll actually go forward, I’m not hopeful. In a year or two (or three, or four) from now, as a watered-down version? I don’t know, but I’m actively discussing other (non-DADU) options with my wife right now.

    4. We are working on a DADU in our backyard right now. The current regs are not ideal, but not impossible either. If this passes quickly, we’ll probably make ours a bit taller.

      1. Paul, What do you anticipate the final construction costs including permits, design, fees, etc. will be? just the site prep, utility hook ups, etc. can be pretty high.

  3. My zoning question is – why are there ANY lots in Seattle that are over 5,000 sq ft? on a >9,000 sq ft lot – why can ‘t you build 2 DADUs?

      1. Yeah, there are a lot of areas with big lots in the north and south end. I live in the north end, and live on a big lot (I wish it was smaller). So do my neighbors. There are a fair number of people with basement apartments and backyard cottages, but the rules make them less desirable. One of the big things (that HALA addressed) is the ownership requirement. My neighbor had a house with a backyard cottage and then moved. The house sat there for a very long time, despite both houses being very reasonably priced (well under typical market value). This is understandable. Most people looking to buy a house have no interest in being a landlord. Most landlords have no interest in buying that house. It was obvious that while value was added, it did not equal the value that would have been added if the lots could be split, or both could be rented independently. I’m sure anyone who considers doing this recognizes this. Building a backyard cottage might make you some money now, but won’t necessarily add much value to your house. That is really tough sell, and explains why so few have done this.

    1. My place in Ballard has a 12,000 sq.ft. lot. Since there’s a bit of a slope, I’d love to build a below-grade garage/shop to work in, and a DADU above, but since the current regulations limits the entire shebang to ~800 sq.ft. – that wouldn’t work out too well if I have a 600 sq.ft. shop built below, since I’d be limited to 200 sq.ft. for the mother-in-law.

      I hope they proceed the proposed rules of bumping up the DADU size to 1,000 sq.ft, and not counting the garage space below.

      1. Can you build 600 sq ft ADU on top of an “unfinished basement” foundation? (wink wink, nudge nudge)

      2. Dear Joshua,
        Please note that if you have a detached garage you can build on to of it and the main garage will not count! Starting it as a sun deck is an option until we know the outcome of this bill.

  4. Some questions, just to clarify my own thinking:

    1. I’ve seen “Cottage Communities”, right across Greenwood from Shoreline Community College, and also at Langley, on Whidbey Island. Are these allowed in Seattle?


    2. Some styles of house seem to be much better suited to sharing lot with another small home than others. How many existing homes are suitable now? And are architects ready to design them, and banks willing to finance them?

    3. What percentage of rising housing prices are the result of extremely short-term speculation, or “flipping”, rather than rapidly increasing demand? Which, at this time, is caused by what?

    4. Am I right that massive every-day traffic jams on all our local Interstates are largely caused by displaced people having to move where they need to drive more?

    5. And could houses, and everything else become more “affordable” if people got paid wages that could afford them?

    6. And why are vast majority of people-whether or not they think ordinary workers’ wages should be high enough to buy a house with, or rent a good apartment- convinced it’s impossible?

    Any ideas, thanks.


    1. #3: Rapidly increasing demand is caused by new people moving to Seattle. The 2015 census data just came out; 70,000 new people in Seattle over the past 5 years. 15,000 alone in the past year. Those people need homes, and a variety of different homes. Some are fine in large houses with housemates. Others need an entire 4 bed house for their family. Still others are fine living in a 1-bed apartment or studio. We’re building a bunch of housing for singles and couples, but not very much housing for families. Also, apparently we’re not building enough housing for singles and couples, since a fair number of people that I know are renting 4+ bedroom houses and splitting rent to save money.


    2. One of those communities is here on Bainbridge Island. It’s nice. So nice, in fact, that the homes there sell for a real premium. I couldn’t justify spending that many dollars per square foot (or overall) myself. Which is an argument for increasing the supply of them so they aren’t so scarce and expensive, and building some of the cottages a bit more modest in size.

    3. We need more cottage communities. My dad tried to build one in the 1970s in Lakewood but the county wouldn’t allow a zoning variance. It would have had a mix of closely-spaced houses, apartments, and dedicated open space. So he sold the land to a regular developer and they built ten boring suburban houses along a cul-de-sac.

      Now I have a friend in Rainier View who has a house with a yard large enough for a second house, and he’s considering building a second house and living in it. He looked into premanufactured house companies, and they’re all ready to help with the permitting and paperwork as well as the house itself, except that some of the companies won’t take Seattle customers (just the suburbs) because they say the regulations in Seattle are too restrictive/expensive/a hassle than it’s worth in profit.

    4. “What percentage of rising housing prices are the result of extremely short-term speculation, or “flipping”, rather than rapidly increasing demand? Which, at this time, is caused by what?”

      The inventory of available houses is extremely low and has been since 2011, both here and nationally but especially here. Historically a house remained on the market for six months average, but now it’s a month or less. Both houses and apartments are squeezed, but especially houses. The reason is that after the crash everybody stopped building, and people doubled up with family or roommates. Then as the market recovered there became a shortage of apartments, and as home buyers recovered there became a shortage of houses. There’s a natural growth in demand because the population is increasing, both here and nationally, and people with increasing job stability want to un-double-up and move out on their own, or get out of an apartment into a house/condo. At the same time, Seattle has had an explosive increase in tech jobs, and all those people want their own apartment or house, and they’re rich enough that they can outbid others and get the condo right in SLU or downtown or Pike-Pine right at the best transit stops and amenities.

      So the inventory is extremely low, and that’s the main reason for the rapid price increases. Sellers often receive several and some of them are $100-200K above asking price. Developers are building, baby, building, but it’s not enough to saturate demand. People in 2011 said all the new apartment buildings would mop up demand in 2012, then they said the same thing in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, but it still hasn’t happened, and rents are still increasing 7-10% per year, while inflation is under 2%.

      I don’t know whether there are opportunities for flippers or not. You can resell a house pretty easily, but it’s hard to get the house in the first place and you have to pay a lot for it. So is it worth buying a hard-to-get house for six months or a year in this market?

      However, the demand is very location-based. It drops off hard south of White Center. My friend bought a house in the residential part of SeaTac, a 1950s area, in 2006 and sold it around 2014. It still hadn’t recovered its pre-crash price, while in Seattle and the Eastside they’re selling like hotcakes. Because people don’t want to live in an unprestigious, has-been area. And transit fans don’t want to live where the buses are infrequent, it takes a long time to get anywhere on them, there’s no supermarket within walking distance, and most jobs are far away. So everywhere from the Burien-Renton line down to probably Puyallup and Spanaway is still recovering slowly. People are moving down there for bargains, and maybe it will catch up someday. There’s also the new exurban houses in Covington and Maple Valley, with barely any transit, for those who want a big new house at a lowish price.

      “Am I right that massive every-day traffic jams on all our local Interstates are largely caused by displaced people having to move where they need to drive more?”

      Probably long-term. The suburban wave in the 1960s was people who wanted to get out into the country and didn’t think a 10-15 mile commute was a big deal. But now people have to go 30-40 miles out to find the same kind of deal, and that doubles or triples the average commute. Most of them don’t work downtown so their commute is not that long, and many of them use highways that don’t go to Seattle like 405 and 202. But they’re still driving further, and thus contributing to congestion.

      “And could houses, and everything else become more “affordable” if people got paid wages that could afford them?”

      There’s a good argument that everyone should be paid at least $55K, or should get a national minimum income at that level even if they don’t work, because that’s the cost of living in a place like Seattle. But that’s still not enough to comfortably buy a house/condo and it will become less so if housing prices continue to rise at their current rate. So there will still be a need for subsidized housing and non-market-based housing (such as nonprofit construction co-ops) until the shortage is saturated once and for all. I would like to see nominal prices drop significantly, perhaps with a 10:1 exchange to a new dollar to bring them back to 1940s numbers. But that’s arguably just window dressing, and the US is unlikely to because it has never recalled its currency. The important thing is to get people a large enough wage or basic income that they can live decently without undue stress.

  5. Here’s the official justification for the 12-month owner occupancy requirement:

    “The requirement prevents speculative developers from acquiring property and building backyard cottages that don’t fit the character of the neighborhood.”

    It’s sacrificing new housing units in exchange for a highly hypothetical and subjective aesthetic benefit.


    1. That “character of the neighborhood” is such a slippery concept that judges should strike it down as too vague. If it means anything it should refer to the size and shape of the building, but that’s independent of what kind of ownership/occupency state it has. It recalls to mind the original 1880s neighborhood covenants I’ve written about, which were intentionally designed to exclude working-class people and minorities by requiring features that they couldn’t afford: large lot, open space, long curving roads far from transit stops, and only useless animals (dogs and cats are OK, but goats and chickens and pigs are not, because that would bring farmers and poor people who have to raise their own food). The current single-family zoning could be tolerated in the 1960s when housing was cheap and the population was lower so alternatives were just five miles away. But in the current situation it’s unconsionable when people are paying $1600 a month for a shoebox or moving to Mill Creek or Auburn to find an affordable place to live (even an apartment!), to enforce low density and open space in every yard in order to please the desires of existing single-family homeowners to have a low-density “character” in the city and inner-ring burbs.

    2. Absolutely, Dan. It is a nonsensical requirement. Let’s back up a bit, and ask the question: Do we want more ADUs, or not? I can think of several reasons why we want more of them:

      1) Leads to lower rents. More people can afford to live in the city.
      2) More people will live in the city. This is good for local businesses as well as good from a transportation standpoint (more effective transit, less miles traveled overall).
      3) More likely to preserve the existing structure. I can think of nothing that is less in the character of the neighborhood then big, brand new monster houses. These are appearing all over the formally working class neighborhoods in the north end. If there were backyard cottages — or the ability to build backyard cottages — there would be far fewer of these. The value of a house with a backyard cottage (or the potential of one) is much higher than one, and thus less appealing for demolition.

      The argument for this restriction is bullshit. Some fear the construction of lots of backyard cottages. That is the whole point! We want a development boom in the backyards of people’s houses, like Vancouver BC had, like here: https://goo.gl/maps/EHNPzJWUVrS2 — Oh, the horror, so ugly, so, so ugly.

      Sorry, this is just a bullshit anti-renter attitude. It is designed to slow down the construction of one of the most affordable forms of housing. If people are scared of renters, then they should just allow more subdivisions. You should be able to split your lot, build a second unit and sell it.

  6. If they didn’t feel quaint and cute, I simply don’t believe we would even be talking about them. They certainly don’t appear to be a solution.

    Few have been built – even fewer are actually used in a way that means the rental housing stock has increased in any kind of way that will make our city more affordable. Many are simply out-buildings for wealthy property owners – not ALL, but certainly some, last I read about them and checked with a couple people who own them (wealthy property owners, to a one).

    Sure, do this. Make it easier because why not. But I can’t see how this will “solve” anything significant with the Seattle housing market, even if these new rules increase the build-rate by 10 times. It doesn’t equate to density, it’s just wearing the t-shirt.

    Frankly, the whole thing feels like a healthy application of ineffectual NIMBY-salve to a portion of the electorate who wants to say they are pro-density, but don’t actually want effective density.

    1. What’s wrong with them though? Why shouldn’t they be allowed everywhere? They raise the density of the lots compared to traditional detached houses (maybe not Seattle’s bungalows like Mt Baker, but certainly large-lot ranch houses like northeast Seattle). That means more households can live in an area, which both decreases demand in the surrounding areas and decreases demand for greenfield development at the edge of town. “Out-buildings for wealthy property owners” is just a reflection of the low supply. Only a few such houses exist, so the wealthiest snap them up and nobody else can compete. But if there were a lot more of them, that wouldn’t be as much of an issue. And nobody expects cluster houses to be the sole solution to the housing shortage, but it’s a modest contribution so why not allow it. Especially since it increases the variety of the kinds of houses people can choose. People who most value this kind will flock to them, and people who don’t won’t.

    2. “the whole thing feels like a healthy application of ineffectual NIMBY-salve to a portion of the electorate who wants to say they are pro-density, but don’t actually want effective density”

      But NIMBYs are the ones opposing it, so it’s not a salve to them. And the people who support it also want to upzone multifamily areas, and would prefer to expand the boundaries of urban villages and let adjacent ones merge, thus converting single-family areas to multifamily. The alternative to converting single-family areas or allowing ADUs is to keep single-family areas unchanged, and that’s exactly what the NIMBYs want. But 70% of Seattle’s available housing land is single-family, and it’s unfair to leave that much land off-limits to density and force all the growth into a few multifamily areas. Because 30% is not enough, otherwise things would be hunky-dory in our existing system.

      Allowing just ADUs is not ideal, but it’s a compromise that may allow something to get passed in City Hall, so that single-family areas aren’t fully exempt from the burden of providing enough housing. Because 70% of the land is too much to exempt!

      The same issue applies in the suburbs, but there it’s even harder to do anything in the single-family areas because they’re a higher percentage of the voters and have greater expectations of low density. (“Density, that’s for Seattle.”) So it isn’t feasable to convert single-family areas in the suburbs. But Seattle is the largest city and has less excuse.

      Martin has talked about how the suburbs have been building larger dense developments than Seattle. But that has all been on decaying industrial/commercial land. It turns out that the suburbs have more industrial/commercial land than people commonly believe. Before, people just ignored Bellevue-Redmond Road. Yeah, there’s an old Coca-Cola factory and a Safeway distribution plant, but that didn’t fit their vision of what Bellevue is (not a decaying inner city), so they mentally ignored its existence and didn’t realized its size. So does Seattle have areas like that? Yes, they’re called the industrial districts in SODO, south Ballard, and eastern West Seattle. And some people have suggested converting much of them to housing. But these areas are successful and productive, and people are rightly concerned about the long-term wisdom of uprooting our local-manufacturing capacity and the diversity of jobs in the city. If overseas shipping breaks down due to oil prices/wars/climate change, we’ll need to revive local manufacturing for our own survival. A lesser diversity of jobs makes us dangerously dependent on one economic sector. So people are reluctant to allow housing there, or only a little bit at the edges, such as the developments next to the stadiums. We can go slowly on converting the industrial land, unlike Vancouver or San Francisco which lost all of it. So if we’re not willing to convert industrial land, then we don’t have large unused spaces for the large-scale housing developments like as the Spring District or Lynnwood or Totem Lake. That’s why they’re not happening in Seattle. Instead we’re just developing one lot at a time in the urban villages, and debating whether to allow slightly more density in the single-family areas.

      1. Oakland is a good example of combining industrial and residential areas. We can’t have everything, so what’s more important to the city – walkable mixed use communities where people live (and a tax base of residents), or industrial jobs in the city proper? Wouldn’t the conversion of SODO from, say the stadiums to the West Seattle Bridge, east of first Ave, give adequate space for tens of thousands of residential units. The same logic for insisting that we maintain industrial jobs here could be applied to residents whom like their neighborhoods. Same coin, different sides.

    3. Another issue with DADUs is that in many neighborhoods SFH lots are actually a lot smaller than the zoning rules. My parents’ house is in a SF5000 zone but the lot is actually only 4200 square feet. There isn’t any room for a DADU given where the house is situated on the lot. That is true for every neighbor as well.

      Also, a code-compliant basement ADU is easier said than done. Most houses in Seattle are old and although many homes don’t need upgraded systems for main floor living, they would need substantial work to accommodate a basement ADU. Electrical, plumbing, egress windows/doors, HVAC, leak mitigation (these are basements after all), water heater, laundry room, etc. is all more complicated and expensive to do in old houses.

      1. So? In some places it’s not possible, but in many places it is possible. Just because something is allowed doesn’t mean that everyone is forced to build one.

        There’s an AirBnB in southeast Portland that has a living room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom all crammed into a converted detached single wide garage. Some people don’t need vast acres of hallways and alcoves to survive.

      2. I forgot about AirBnB – homeowners could probably make a similar amount of money from 8-10 Airbnb nights a month than from leasing their ADUs to actual residents. The profit potential would be much higher if they could get some demand on weeknights. That could pencil out quite a bit better than traditional renting, with none of the annoying tenant issues either.

    4. OK, let me get this straight. Not that many are built, so it doesn’t matter what we do with the laws. OK, except did it ever occur to you that the reason so few are built is because the laws are so bad?

      Vancouver BC doubled their density in many of their single family neighborhoods as a result of this type of development. They did that because the laws were much more liberal. http://www.sightline.org/2013/03/07/in-law-and-out-law-apartments/. They still are: http://www.sightline.org/2013/03/15/adus-and-donts/

      There is enormous potential here in this type of growth. But to achieve that, we need to change the law.

  7. OK, I’m confused. What is the difference between this proposal, and the HALA recommendations. It is pretty clear the ownership requirements are different, but what about the rest of it? If this doesn’t go any further than HALA in any way, shape or form, why not just tell my city council member to support the HALA proposal?

    HALA was a compromise, hammered out after months of work. I fail to see why we should alter it, just because somebody whined about it somewhere.

  8. Why not increase the housing supply (and thus achieve greater affordability) by creating an entire new neighborhood along existing transit in SODO? Denver pursued this strategy to great success, rather than making existing residents buy into dramatic changes to their neighborhoods (which presumably they liked when they moved there). SODO would be a perfect place for large scale, car free mass housing and mixed use developments. There is some industry there, but it’s much easier to relocate industry and industrial parks than individuals. And there’s plenty of space available in Renton, Kent, Tukwila, etc., they could be moved to. Why is the focus entirely on changing rules for existing neighborhoods when there are success stories of great new developments in previously underutilized areas. It would seem that such a practice would be an Urbanist wet dream, unless the Urbanists real goal is to change existing neighborhoods. But to achieve the supply of housing to make a difference in affordability requires new thinking and a new neighborhood, not piecemeal DADUs for the few homeowners who can afford, and have the patience, to build on their own property.

      1. So, flexibility is key so long as we’re pro-density, pro changing the neighborhoods, and align with the Urbanists? What do you say to the resident who doesn’t want their backyard to be overshadowed by a floor DADU, or multi-family housing? Where’s the flexibility to understand that perspective? It seems the solution Urbanist champions is, if you don’t like your neighborhood under our vision, move elsewhere because there’s plenty of single family zones in this city for you, EXCEPT, Urbanists want to eliminate all single family zoning, so essentially the message I’m hearing is, if you want single family zoning, move, but not to the next potential nice neighborhood in seattle that we want to upzone, so to the ‘burbs and drive to work downtown?

        Also, while we’re on the subject of the cost of ADU’s, when did you build your last DADU in Seattle, and at what cost? Or when did you last renovate a home in Seattle for your family? Because I did a reno, and wanted a DADU, but the modest reno that just brought plumbing, electrical, windows, and insulation up to code, and put the house back together as it was with new materials, cost a few hundred thousand dollars (and that was among the lower bids), and the estimates for the DADUs came in at well over a hundred thousand for a modest studio (even the manufactured homes), which was not worth it to me. So quit calling out people for the costs they are experiencing in this city unless you actually have experience with the costs. Thanks.

      2. Please respect differences. First of all it was your choice to take the path that you did. I had nothing to do with it.
        Secondly, manufacturered homes – mobiles suck. I lived in one for twenty years.
        Thirdly, most needed housing for Baby Boomers and students are one bedroom. In case you didn’t know there is a global housing crisis.
        My opinion doesn’t have to agree with yours.
        Catalyst for Change implementing sustainability for all!

      3. So, flexibility is key so long as we’re pro-density, pro changing the neighborhoods, and align with the Urbanists? What do you say to the resident who doesn’t want their backyard to be overshadowed by a floor DADU, or multi-family housing? Where’s the flexibility to understand that perspective? It seems the solution Urbanist champions is, if you don’t like your neighborhood under our vision, move elsewhere because there’s plenty of single family zones in this city for you, EXCEPT, Urbanists want to eliminate all single family zoning, so essentially the message I’m hearing is, if you want single family zoning, move, but not to the next potential nice neighborhood in seattle that we want to upzone, so to the ‘burbs and drive to work downtown?

        Also, while we’re on the subject of the cost of ADU’s, when did you build your last DADU in Seattle, and at what cost? Or when did you last renovate a home in Seattle for your family? Because I did a reno, and wanted a DADU, but the modest reno that just brought plumbing, electrical, windows, and insulation up to code, and put the house back together as it was with new materials, cost a hundreds of thousand dollars (and that was among the lower bids), and the estimates for the DADUs came in at well over a hundred thousand for a modest studio (even the manufactured homes), which was not worth it to me. Perhaps quit calling out people for the costs they are experiencing in this city unless you actually have experience with the costs. Thanks.

      4. Have you looked at development inMagnolia recently?

        Single family zoning does not guarantee anything about the size of what gets built next door to you. In fact, it doesn’t really guarantee that they won’t rent out bedrooms to people who aren’t family members.

        All current single family zoning guarantees is how many mailboxes it has.

        If, however, the zoning allowed for conversion to a duplex with no exterior building changes, then you wouldn’t have to worry about any of your concerns.

  9. On cost of construction: if Seattle adopts reasonable rules, a 600+ square foot manufactured home built to current codes can be installed on-site for under $50,000 including site prep and foundation. These aren’t old-fashioned trailer-park tin cans, they’re built to modern building, energy, plumbing, and wiring codes. No, they’re not quaint turn-of-the-century bungalows, but there are some very attractive designs available.

    Check out, for example, http://www.cascadefactoryhomes.com/park-models.html

    1. Is that what I’d like to live in myself? No, my existing 1,640 square feet is a bit cramped with teenagers and pets and bikes and crafts and whatnot. But it would be a great size for a live-in housekeeper, or for a gardener who could walk to work serving a few block radius.

      Seriously, if you look at the finances of people who can afford better single-family homes in Seattle, a large percentage employ household services provided by people who can’t afford to live anywhere near where they work. How much neighborhood traffic could we convert to walking commutes if we had affordable “servant’s quarters” in residential neighborhoods?

  10. There are a few areas that the recommendations did not cover that really should be addressed: 1) sewer hook up fees are $10,000. 2) Permitting is slow and expensive 3) Construction in Seattle is so hot that you need to book a contractor almost a year in advance. 4) Creative Financing options – the City should find ways to help folks out.

    Several commenters have asked about pricing and based on my research, real costs re $250-300 sq foot. That’s a whole lot for most home owners to handle.

    1. A quarter of a million mortgage will cost you more. This ADU is for individuals that can’t afford huge mortgages of millions of dollars.
      Different strokes for different folks. Sewer hook ups are costly no doubt. That is when a well, septic, composting toilet come into play.
      One time cost.
      As for the permit timeline you can create a group of people to advocate expediency to the process.
      Anything worthwhile is not easy!
      You can do it.

  11. Financing through the city is a recent issue in Pierce County. Check out leg.gov. There is an option to receive newsletters on the permitting processes and some research on those who were forced to live with a broken septic system that didn’t have the money to pay for sewer hook up with the city.
    I am not sure of the outcome. It is just a thought.

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