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Small, Affordable Apartments: Seattle Needs More, Not a Moratorium

2013 March 17
by Renee Staton

< Rendering of proposed microhousing project at 12th Ave and East Marion St in the Central District by David Neiman Architects >

When I moved to Seattle in 1989, I was 22. My first apartment was a studio on Capitol Hill at Malden Avenue East and East Mercer Street. I lived there for six months, then moved into a series of group houses in Montlake and Green Lake. My rent in the group houses was all I could pay back then. Living alone was out of the question on my income. Sharing a room in a house of people met through Seattle Weekly or other classified ads was the way most of my friends were living as well. We were fresh out of college and working multiple jobs to get by.

Today, I live in a single-family house with my kids, and we all enjoy the privacy and space that we are fortunate to be able to have. However, I have not forgotten what it was like to be young, poor, and struggling to find safe, affordable housing.

Choices in Seattle have grown since I first moved here. In recent years, an old model of housing, congregate housing (also known as aPodments) — small, affordable private apartments with some shared living space, such as kitchens — has become popular with builders. Conventional one-bedroom apartments on Capitol Hill run $1,100 or more per month while rents in these units start at about $500-$600 per month including utilities. Property owners have realized that there is a large market of people who can’t afford to rent a conventional house or apartment. These may be students, recent graduates, people going through life transitions, or people who just don’t have the large incomes that are needed to live in conventional, market-rate Seattle housing. Many in this group are happy to live in newly constructed, safe, affordable, small apartments with some shared space.

Congregate housing is privately-developed, de facto affordable housing being built throughout Seattle without public subsidies. Recently, six congregate houses were built on a single-family street near my home in Pinehurst. The buildings are simply constructed and are not beautiful. However, they are new, safe, and affordable, and they give nearly 50 people homes along a bus line near shopping and jobs.

Unfortunately, some well-connected and persistent homeowners in Capitol Hill and Eastlake either never experienced the struggle of finding safe, affordable housing in Seattle or have forgotten what it was like. They have called on Seattle Council Member Tom Rasmussen, who is now considering emergency legislation prohibiting any new congregate housing. They demand for neighbors to have input on what any future congregate housing looks like, where it can be located, and more.

All of the measures that these neighbors are asking for, especially full design review, will only result in the increase in the cost of these units and will likely delay new units from being built. This is at a time when Seattle employers are hiring new workers and rental rates are rising and Seattle City Council is working hard to support affordable and workforce housing. A moratorium on the private development of affordable housing that is working is not what we need right now.

Having many housing options available at a range of rent levels is a simple equity issue. It allows people choices to select their best living arrangement. These small, affordable apartments are a success story. They are working at providing the housing we need. We don’t need to fix them, we need to make it easier to build them.

If you have concerns about the possible loss of affordable housing in Seattle, please reach out to the city council now and share your thoughts.


Renee Staton is a neighborhood activist who lives in North Seattle.

This post originally appeared on SLOG.


9 Responses leave one →
  1. Sophia Katt permalink
    March 17, 2013

    Renée, you live in North Seattle. You don’t have any skin in the game.

    • David Moser permalink
      March 17, 2013

      As a North Seattle resident, Renee has plenty of skin in the game. We have a regional housing market and the balance of supply and demand in one area directly impacts the balance of supply and demand in other areas. People priced out of one area look for housing elsewhere, shifting the geography of demand and shifting prices.
      But even if this didn’t impact her personally(which it does), that is no critique. Are you unable to think about things beyond what is in front of your nose?

      • Sophia Katt permalink
        March 18, 2013

        My eyesight is excelllent, and includes the discouraging vistas of six different aPodments that look like bizarro buildings my nephew used to build with his Lego sets.

        We do have a regional housing market, in which supply and demand plays a part. We should also have a well-developed sense of citizenry which extends through the city, a sense of what builds up the city for decades and generations, and not simply sates someone’s appetite for hanging in “cool hoods”.

        Yes, Capitol Hill is cool. That is because a lot of us that moved there decades ago worked at it. We preserved the good buildings, stuck it out through the crime waves, fought for P-Patches and pocket parks, supported the Hill local businesses whenever we could, lobbied for a Sound Transit link station (that was really a fight), and generally suppported all the elements that make the Hill cool now. We have one of the highest density per capita ratios on the West Coast, and that is a good thing for the planet and for Seattle.

        What we don’t have is density appropriately expressed in North Seattle, or any of the other wife swathes of single family housing tracts in the city. So if you really want to stop looking beyond your own nose, how about recreating the elements that make Capitol HIll so desirable in the rest of town, instead of rushing like lemmings to one or two areas? That is also a way to handle supply and demand, without ruining the architectural environment in CapHill that draws you so. It is, however, a way that requires commitment, time and quiet ongoing personal effort measured in small incremental victories and setbacks. It is how a built environment worth living in is actually built.

        I am NOT anti-density, choosing my entire adult life to not own a car (I walk), own a sing’le family house (I have a condo), or endure silly hour long commutes (I manage my own consultancy). I am anti-crap buildings, and so far that is what aPodments have ended up being. These buildings will remain long after the “cool” crowd has moved on.

    • Renee Staton permalink
      March 17, 2013

      Actually, I have been evaluating moving from North Seattle back to the Hill. And, I spend a fair amount of my time on the Hill right now. If I move back, I will likely live in a condo or other multi-family housing and not in a single family house.

  2. Theresa permalink
    March 19, 2013

    My goodness Sophia, what an ignorant and selfish comment!

    On what basis are you qualified to determine that aPodments are “crap buildings”? If you knew anything about design or construction you’d understand that because of more stringent building and energy codes and advancements in construction methods, means and materials these aPodments that you disparage are of FAR higher quality than the 20-year-old condo in which you live.

    And while you claim that they are “bizarro” and ugly, are they really worse than the dilapidated shacks that they replaced? Considering that you live in a condo built in the mid-90’s, you really shouldn’t be throwing stones. And do you seriously believe that it’s the “architectural environment” that has young people clamoring to move to Cap Hill?

    Essentially your argument boils down to the fact that you were here first and everyone else can just go eff-off to North Seattle. You think that you were the one responsible for making Capitol Hill “cool” and you shouldn’t have to share that “coolness” with anyone else. These newbies didn’t have to deal with the crime waves or help in the struggle to bring ST to the Hill, so they have no right to enjoy the fruits of that labor now.

    You pat yourself on the back for choosing a neighborhood well served by transit and infrastructure, yet you hope to deny that same choice to any newcomers.

    It always amazes me when people like you choose to live in a neighborhood like Capitol Hill when they hold such ignorant, intolerant and ugly opinions. It makes me sad and embarrassed to have a neighbor like you.

  3. November 25, 2019

    You did a great job! This post sound really good.

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