Like any big, growing city, Seattle has an affordable housing problem, and Capitol Hill and the Central District — central, walkable, full of fantastic things and less and less affordable — is an epicenter. Even so, Seattle’s City Hall is considering putting the brakes on one of the rarest, innovative creatures of the Pacific Northwest’s urban density.
Last fall, CHS mapped 15 microhousing projects built, under construction or in planning stages around Capitol Hill — all but two without the design or environmental reviews standard for any other type of multifamily housing of the same scale. In the time since, spurred in large part by activism centered right here on Capitol Hill, the push for a moratorium on the projects has continued to climb the steps at City Hall. Here’s what a moratorium might bring to a stop across the city.
This time, CHS mapped the 36 project we could identify in the Department of Planning and Development database of construction that match boarding house-type characteristics unique to microhousing. Of the 36, most are clustered around the Hill and the University District — exactly where you’d expect to find dorm-like, communal style living. But the map also illustrates the pervasiveness of the trend — and its ability to transcend conventional wisdom as the projects also appear to have spread — much more slowly — into some less expected corners of the city like West Seattle and Ballard.
It is very likely that the map understates the total of microhousing projects underway or already built in the city — City Hall staff are hard at work trying to sort out how to identify the projects systematically, as you read this. We were limited by searching DPD records for certain terms used in the permitting process by microhousing developers. The latest CHS map also likely somewhat overstates Capitol Hill’s role in the Seattle microhousing revolution as CHS had a stronger home-team advantage in identifying local projects thanks to information collected by community efforts calling for a moratorium on the projects.
Those calls haven’t landed on deaf ears. City Council and DPD staff have been analyzing the projects and the various loopholes that have allowed — and in some cases rewarded — their development. Council member Tom Rasmussen — still years from his term on the Council coming up so not facing election this fall — has stuck his nose squarely into the situation even though he is no longer a member of the committee that would ultimately vote on any legislation mandating a halt to the projects until loopholes can be tightened — and eliminated.
Of course, not every microhousing project is moving forward without review. This Summit Ave project, for example, triggered the process with its skinny six-story-ness in the middle of an already densely-packed Capitol Hill block. Nor are the developers behind the projects all mercenary types looking to pull a fast one. This coming 12th Ave project, for example, is backed by one of the creators of Melrose Market.
In the meantime, the lack of a moratorium doesn’t mean microhousing developers will keep “getting away” with everything. DPD apparently identified and is squashing one loophole that allowed developers to apply for tax exemptions on their microhousing projects.