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Today’s guest blogger is Heather Song, Executive Assistant at Bellwether.

Microhousing. This is not a new topic.

We’ve even touched on it before in a past blog. The feelings about microhousing or aPodments, as trademarked by Calhoun Properties, run the gamut. From dislike and a fear of what they might bring into a neighborhood to a feeling that they are good for the city and the answer to the city’s affordable housing needs. There was an article in the May 8th edition of The Stranger titled The Fight Against Small Apartments, written by Dominic Holden. It was a well-researched, well written, article that got my brain churning on how I feel about these controversial buildings.

On the one hand…

Many of the arguments against microhousing come from neighborhood groups. Their opposition spans from fears that the buildings won’t hold up and are a fire danger, to fears about what types of people will move into their neighborhoods.

And the other…

On the other spectrum, developers and other supporters alike, feel that microhousing is the housing market’s way of correcting for a specific need – affordable housing. As Seattle gets more and more expensive to live in, there is a need to find creative ways to keep city living accessible to all income levels. And because these developments don’t require Housing Levy funds or other designated federal/state/city funding to be built they are an attractive solution. Consider this recent article
about the high levels of suburban poverty as more and more people are forced out of urban living – I can see how that could be a convincing argument.

My response

So with both of those perspectives in mind, here are my thoughts:

My first reaction is; what’s the big deal? I think microhousing has a place in the city and I think it’s meeting a growing need. And if a neighborhood is zoned to allow them and they are built well and safely, follow building codes, and use lasting materials, then I don’t see a problem. I understand that the neighborhoods might change, parking will get tighter, and there will be more people around. But nobody likes change at first, and isn’t that last one a good thing?

To the people who argue that the population of people these buildings will house will be transient and “sketchy” because of the affordability of the rent: it’s true that a month to month lease and a younger demographic will probably mean a more fluid population in the neighborhood. But keep in mind that the apartments are considered affordable for the neighborhood they are in. They are still not cheap. More importantly, why are the people who need an affordable rent “sketchy”? A bank teller, department store clerk, hospital staff, barista, teacher; do they all sound sketchy? They just want to live close to where they work.

To those who argue that micro apartments are the answer to our affordable housing needs, I have three points. First, they do not address the need for affordability for families, obviously. Second, they do not address the need for affordability for a growing population of low-income seniors – with their own unique set of needs. And finally, unless the developer took advantage of the city’s Multifamily Tax Exemption Program, not one of those units has any restrictions to keep them affordable.  So, as with any market, as the demand rises, so will the prices. Lack of restrictions also means that those truly in need of an affordable place are in competition for these units with those who are just interested in living in a smaller space. If you read this KUOW article, you’ll learn about a homeowner who rents out his Capitol Hill house and lives in a micro apartment when he’s in town. My suspicions are that many of these micro apartments will rent to those with means, but choosing to live small. Not those who would truly benefit from the affordability of the rent.

Panacea – yes or no?

So, are aPodments a panacea for Seattle’s growing affordable housing needs? No. They can be a part of the solution, certainly, but they are not the answer. They are a great option for students, single people, those who are just interested in downsizing, or having a smaller footprint.  And, as long as they stay affordable, they are a viable option for lower income individuals who truly need an affordable rent.

 

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