urban planning
10:48 am
Thu April 18, 2013

Micro-housing boom has some Seattle neighborhoods up in arms

New buildings packed with dorm-like rooms for rent have been popping up in Seattle’s densest neighborhoods.

A grey area in the law is allowing these so-called “micro-housing” projects to go up without neighborhood comment. A brown-bag discussion on the issue of takes place at City Hall today.

The new buildings cluster as many as eight tiny dwelling units around a single shared kitchen. They usually come with their own bathrooms and microwave ovens and are sometimes marketed as “aPodments.” But Seattle’s current codes count the kitchens—not the units—to meet thresholds for design review. And these buildings have just five or six full kitchens. So the developers are getting fast-tracked approval for projects that might house 60 or more residents, with no parking provided.  

Chris Leman is President of the Community Council for the Eastlake neighborhood, which along with Capitol Hill, has been demanding better oversight from the city.

“Through this loophole, they're avoiding any need for public notice or comment or appeal or environmental analysis, even though by any measure it is having the same impacts as an apartment building  that has that many units,” Leman said.

The community groups say this trend is undermining carefully-laid neighborhood plans. They want a moratorium on new micro-housing developments until new regulations are in place.

The Seattle City Council is discussing the idea, as well as several other paths forward. Council member Tom Rasmussen says the city's permitting departments have been caught by surprise and in the absence of specific regulations for micro-housing have followed the letter of the law. He says since 2006, 44 micro-housing projects have been approved. Rasmussen wants the grey area to be cleared up.

“I think there is a future for micro-housing. The question is what will that future look like,” Rasmussen said.

Several council members say they're balancing the clear evidence of demand for this kind of housing, with the desire to keep it affordable and in the realm of smart growth. A meeting to hear developers' concerns is scheduled for next month. New regulations could be in place by the end of the year.