From small beginnings come great things

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microhousingI’ve toured several micro-housing units (none that the neighbors have described as substandard) and I’m impressed by the possibilities. Mostly they are small rooms (between 150 and 200 square feet) that have private bathrooms, a mini-refrigerator and a microwave grouped around a full kitchen and shared dining area. There might be seven or eight rooms per kitchen.

I support the use of micro-housing as an option for affordable housing for individuals who want to live close to where they work, or close to transit opportunities. With rents that can range from $500 to 900 a month, I think they are good alternatives for individuals who need a first apartment and can’t afford their own studio or one-bedroom, or for those who desire a smaller footprint.

Forty-eight micro-housing projects have been built since 2006, for a total of 2,100 micro units. Thirty of these are on Capitol Hill or in the University District. Capitol Hill residents, particularly, have voiced objections to the micro-housing trend, citing concerns about parking, density, and neighborhood character.

Currently, DPD is working on modifications to the land use code that would require more micro-housing projects to go through design review, define micro-unit buildings, and possibly create a new threshold for design review based on the size/square footage of the building, rather than the unit count. (This would ensure that micro-unit buildings be treated like apartment buildings of the same square footage.)

Creating a consistent unit count and applying design review consistent with an apartment building of similar size will provide a formal space for micro-unit buildings in the code and ensure that they are treated comparably to a similar apartment building.

I would like to see more structure and definition in place to make micro-housing work for Seattle neighborhoods, however. I want to focus on ways we can support housing options, rather than thwart them. Here are some of the things I’d like to see discussed and resolved to regulate their size, bulk, scale, location, and impact on the neighborhood:

  1. ALL micro-housing units should be subject to design review and appropriate SEPA threshold review.
  2. We must address the impact of micro-housing projects on residential parking. Creating a Restricted Parking Zone (with limited number of parking passes for the building) in the neighborhood would align with our current strategies, but I wonder too if more creative solutions might be on the horizon, as our city continues to work with transportation options. For example, perhaps it would be possible to require building participation in a program such as Car2Go, or other to-be-determined transportation alternatives.
  3. Storage and pick up of trash, recycling, and garbage must be adequately addressed up during design conversations.
    I think we should consider appropriate neighborhood zones where micro-housing can be built. At a recent public hearing, once council central staffer suggested, and I agree, that additional conversations about low rise zone designations and how many units can go into them, are needed. (Perhaps a restricted number or height restriction would be appropriate).

I look forward to seeing the regulatory legislation that DPD plans to put forward later this year.

Note that another public hearing will occur at 6 p.m. May 6 on Capitol Hill. We haven’t nailed down a location yet, but if you keep an eye on the Planning, Land Use, and Urban Sustainability committee agenda page, you’ll see it announced.