In Seattle, Microhousing Provides a Back Door to Added Density

Developers in Seattle have been building ultra-compact apartments to provide alternatives to high housing prices. But these "aPodments," which take advantage of loopholes in codes, could bring negative consequences with the large increase in density.

In the Emerald City, dozens of microhousing units are being built on what were once single-family lots. This increasingly common kind of housing "offers a way to reconcile rising urban housing prices with a financially struggling generation's preference for city living," says Claire Thompson, and "is now prompting passionate debate over the best approach to urban landfill." Such developments are a creative way of building affordable housing, but face opposition from "wealthy homeowners who don't want younger, poorer folks flooding their neighborhood, competing for parking spaces, blocking their views, destroying local character, and depreciating neighboring property values."

Another problem, says critics, "is not the idea of density itself or the types of new neighbors it could bring, but the backhanded way Seattle developers have gone about capitalizing on the trend." San Francisco has updated its city code to allow small units and New York is piloting "micro-apartment" projects, but Seattle is allowing developers to count multiple microapartments as one large unit and bypass standard design and environmental reviews. "If aPodments start showing up on every block," said Carl Winter, a representative of neighborhood group Reasonable Density Seattle, "that's an incredible increase in density, and they're never going to study what that density would do."

The Capitol Hill Community Council submitted a resolution to the Seattle City Council asking for a moratorium on new microapartments until the design-review loophole is closed, says Thompson, but it doesn't sound like the city is seriously considering it. "We're observing them and intend to do a little more study," said Mike Podowski, land use policy manager for the city's Department of Planning and Development.

Full Story: Peace in a pod: How tiny apartments could reshape the big city

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