CHS: Prior to forum, Council member says microhousing rule changes coming

Inside a micro-apartment (Image:

Inside a micro-apartment (Image:

Threatening to render Thursday’s public hearing on Seattle microhousing fully anticlimactic, the chair of the City Council’s land use committee says that one rule change that closes a tax benefit loophole for developers will likely be followed by new legislation from DPD to further constrict the flow of multi-story, dorm-style apartments in the city.

“One sore spot has been the way that developers have used their ‘unit count’ in different ways depending on what City regulation they are working with,” Richard Conlin writes in a post to his “Making it Work” blog in advance of Thursday’s hearing. “The City Office of Housing has now issued a regulation that should resolve this issue.”

The new regulation requires that any building applying for a Multi-Family Tax Exemption for affordable housing use the same unit count that the developer uses in the land use permitting process, Conlin said.

Microhousing hearing
WHEN: April 18, 2013 – 11:30 am @ 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM
WHERE: Council Chambers, second floor, 600 4th Avenue

CHS reported in March on the push for a moratorium on microhousing development even as City staff were working to close the loopholes that allowed developers to play games with the number of units in a project to gain tax breaks and avoid environmental and design reviews. CHS mapped nearly 40 of the projects across the city with the bulk being built on Capitol Hill and in the University District, though several are underway or complete in the Central District. Given soaring rents and forecasts for a continuing influx of new Seattleites, it’s little wonder the Apodment-style developments are popular with investors — and tenants.

But while Thursday’s forum will likely bring more calls for a moratorium on the projects, the complaints very well could be moot. Conlin writes that the Department of Planning and Development is preparing legislation that City Council will need to carry forward and pass to further address the microhousing loopholes:

DPD is working on legislation that will address two other issues to cover micro-unit buildings in the land use code. This legislation will define micro-unit buildings, to establish that they are different from an apartment building and have different characteristics. DPD is also considering creating a new threshold for design review based on the size/square footage of the building, rather than the unit count, so that micro-unit buildings will be treated the same as an apartment building of the same square footage.

The rules forcing design review would seemingly take much of the wind from the sails of critics who have complained that the projects are not subject to the same controls as other projects.

Still, Conlin seems to be forecasting continued opposition on Thursday. “[S]ome of the opposition to these buildings is based on other, less tangible, factors related to this kind of affordable housing,” he writes, “even though these buildings meet the other requirements of the land use code.”

14 thoughts on “CHS: Prior to forum, Council member says microhousing rule changes coming

  1. “The City Office of Housing has now issued a regulation that should resolve this issue.”

    No it does not and Richard Conlin should know better. I think his statement is an expression of hope that he does not need to deal with this. All the SHA action means is the developers trying to use the loophole can’t apply for MFTE going forward. It also means that SHA ‘busted’ DPD. DPD writing code revisions is not going to automatically resolve anything either.

    It is unlikely that this restriction really means all that much at all if a developer chooses to use the loophole. The MFTE is being totally reassessed and the profits are really really good.

    Worth watching the whole thing as it is extremely educational

  2. Density done right and affordable housing are good ideas, but this is a case of Stupid Density. Last week I visited friends on Capital Hill whose garage was flooded to a depth of a couple of inches by runoff from an existing apartment building adjacent to and a little upslope from their property on 11th Avenue East during a heavy storm a couple of years ago. As bad as that was, it’s nothing compared to the monstrously tall, deeply shade-producing “apodment” building that DPD recently approved on the parcel where the apartment building now stands. This new apodment complex occupies almost every square foot of the lot, except for a 5 foot setback from the adjacent property lines. It towers several floors above the single family homes that flank it on three sides. Thanks to this huge giveaway to greedy developers intent on ramming these grotesquely large and out of character buildings willy nilly onto the neighborhood, lots of single-family home owners on Capitol Hill are now looking cash in on their houses in order to make way for more of these apodment buildings. Many Capitol Hill homeowners are outraged by this because it amounts to little more than spot zoning. Richard Conlin, Sally Clark and the other members of the Seattle City Clouncil know exactly what they’re doing, because their campaigns are lavishly funded by developers. Seattle voters can put a stop to this by tossing every member of the Clowncil who supports this cancerous upzoning and covering 95% of formerly single-family lots with these enormous new buildings. Let’s also elect Peter Steinbruik as our new mayor, because he knows the difference between smart growth and stupid growth.

  3. I’m all for tossing the entire city council out for different reasons than the anti development crowd, but, count me in. They are petty money grubbing buffoons. Sally Bagshaw in particular is one of the most arrogant and incompetent people on the planet. Let’s kick them all out. Anything would be better. I would rather have Omari.

  4. Thats why you should support Kshama Sawant. She is a smart, tough, no non-sense candidate that will help reverse some of the damage done by over privileged out of touch liberals like Conlin and Bagshaw. We need help gathering signatures to get her on the ballot because the filing fee is 1% of a city council members salary of $120,000.

    Help Get Kshama Sawant on the Ballot! Volunteer Event!

    This Saturday and Sunday

    April 20 & 21

    12:00 – 3:00 PM

    Training/gathering at Black Coffee Co-op in the upstairs loft

    501 E. Pine St.

    Cross street: Summit Ave
    In Capitol Hill, Seattle 98122

  5. Truly affordable housing for those who don’t need to make a big footprint, and in-city density? Living without a car? Sounds great to me. When my kids go off to college I’m moving to an apodment and walking to work. Those property owners who have large capl hill homes and are offended by the po folk moving in, well too bad. You’ve enjoyed your two million dollar homes plenty and no one is putting an apodment next to you anyway. Don’t begrudge the poor affordable housing, you land greedy gentry.

  6. Grumbo! You’ve lost your mind with the last part of your comment. Earth to Grumbo, c’mon!

  7. I never thought I’d agree with grumbo on anything but I have to say he isn’t far off the mark. The current city council is full of a bunch of out of touch democratic elites who like the national democratic party have sold out to corporate interests. The only City council member who is a real person is Bruce Harrell. Even Nick Licata while liberal has lost his edge and hasn’t accomplished much.

    While I don’t like the idea of why apodments have come on the scene at least they are providing somehwat inexpensive housing for people. This city is fast becoming unaffordable and in 5-10 years we’ll be like San Fransico. I myself have been contemplating an apodment because I cannot afford the rents and am having to look further south and north.

    Over 50% of the city are renters but when asked to join the tenants union and organize and fight for affordable housing most people are to precoocupied to do anything in their own best interest. Many don’t identify with older people who can’t afford the rents because many of them are young and privileged and consider their situation temporary so they show no solidarity.

    We need people on the city council that know what its like to work for a living and have struggled at some point intheir life otherwise it’s all abstract to them which is why they don’t get it.

  8. Would someone pls educate me: what is the difference between an apodment and a studio apartment?

    • Apodments are about the size of a dorm room on a college campus. You have a bedroom and bathroom and sometimes a kitchenette. They can range in size from 200 sq ft to larger but usually are on the low end. It’s basically a place to sleep. You share a kitchen with the the other residents. You can see pictures on their website.

      The fact that the city council is not doing ANYTHING to keep housing affordable and considers $1220 am onth for a one bedroom to be reasonable means they are out of touch and not planing on doing anyhting anytime soon. In fact they have already decided to tear down Yesler Terrace and have sold it to developers who will construct 25 TOWERS with “mixed use” dwellings. The current residents many of whom are elderly have not been guaranteed right of return and where are they going to live during the TEN years it takes to complete construction? Shameful.

  9. in reality, many of the micro units are far less than 200 sqft, with a third or more less than 140 sqft (based on plans reviewed for projects in lowrise zones on Cap Hill) and many are 100 sqft or less.

    the “shared” kitchens are as small as 90 sqft with a small table that seats two. another anecdotally has a card table. these are often not on the same floor as as your pod. sometimes it is 2 or 3 floors away.

    the developers are reaping 2-4 times per sq ft in rent than regular apartments.

    typical is 64 units squeezed onto a single 5000 sqft lot. nice.

  10. A few things I noted from the hearing, and I do not really give a hoot about people ‘liking’ or ‘no liking’, wanting to live in one or not:
    1. Fire safety. If permitted as if a house, and now up to 4-5 stories, it is ‘not’ like a house. We are also getting into a territory where the Seattle building codes are not even up to the national standards.
    2. Whining cheap developers raking in rents. There are some good architects and developers out there who do not try and use a loophole. What about even playing field for them?
    3. ‘Affordable’ housing that is higher rents than market rents. Nice bunch of profits for developers and landlords and drives the rents up for all of us. I believe in subsidizing where peoples’ income really means there is no rental available. But, to subsidize for the ‘hot’ neighborhoods when builders can just build near light rail and to NOT subsidize for truly low income — well that’s not a use of my taxpayer dollars that I support.
    4. Calling everyone who objects owners of Single Family ‘mansions’. Sorry. Does not fly. I live in a multi-family unit in a multi-family neighborhood. And I object to what I consider cheating. I object to council ignoring this for years. And I think we need to look at the real number of units in order to deal with pesky little things like safety, and sewer upgrades, location near enough transit, etc.

    • Well it’s nice to through blanket concerns about safety and code onto the fire, but, nobody has previously suggested any deviation from fire codes or safety and such. No fire or safety problems have yet been observed.

      As for the size and location of amenities such as kitchens – that would be up to the buyer to choose a rental property that suits there desires and financial ability. For this to happen the buyer would need enough supply and variability in the market to have such a choice. My suggestion (and I am sure 10s of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Seattlites would agree) is that we allow choice, we allow variablility, we accept that peoples wants, needs, desires, abilities, and caste are different.

      These facilites are being built where transit is highly available and where jobs, services, infrastructure, and commities are prepared to handle a little density. We are the big city, we can handle 100,000 more people. We should, we must, it is simple and it is good for us. The folks that live in microhousing generally will be working, spending, and paying more taxes that are needed to upgrade the sewers that some folks seem to be so concerned about. FYI our sewage treatment facilities are prepared for massive growth 50 years out. If a few 100 year old pipes need to be replaced, well, it’s kind of shocking a city like Seattle is so backward as to not have already planned for some basic infrastructure improvement. The whole “sewer is crumbling” chicken little argument is weird, lame, and been tried a few times since 1972. I remember waiting for turds to float by before jumping in to lake washington befor METRO put the sewer line around Lake Washington. The sewers are fine. We need to move in different directions with the environmental movement and biggest thing their is over purchasing. 25lb bags of fertalizer are priced about the same as a 2lb bag. So, I buy the 2lb bag. I only need the 2 pound bag because I have a small yard with a few ornamental shrubs and flowers. Many people buy the 25 pound bag with pesticide and herbacides included and then they store it next to the HVAC system in the garage with all the other “household chemicals” and wonder why the kids have various ailments. And most of the “natural” and “safe” products aren’t any better. Just buy less and use it up.

      Anyway, I have seen no reasonable aregument as to any actual problems generated by housing deversity. My appartment neighbors and roomers as as good as the owners. Even the SHA properties seem to be correcting some renter problems.

      Let’s fix real problems and not worry so much about imaginary problems.