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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.