In another addition to the spirited debate over microhousing — multistory buildings consisting of tiny housing units with shared kitchens — a May 22 panel discussion addressed concerns of community members who have seen the compact developments crop up since 2009.
Hosted by PubliCola and moderated by Q13 Fox political analyst C.R. Douglas, the panel consisted of the director of the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) Diane Sugimura, Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, neighborhood activist Bill Bradburd and director of Smart Growth Seattle Roger Valdez.
Rasmussen, Bradburd and Sugimura echoed the same sentiment: They support density and a variety of housing options, but believe important questions need to be answered, such as whether the units are safe and if they fit into the aesthetic streetscape of the neighborhoods in which they are built.
“What sort of councilmember would I be if I said, ‘Oh, just build ’em,’” Rasmussen said. Despite past discussion of a moratorium, Rasmussen said his goal is not to stop or slow down development.
Critics of microhousing say they create unexpected density in neighborhoods that aren’t prepared for it, as the buildings can house more tenants than a typical apartment complex. The units, sometimes rented under the trade name aPodments, typically range from $500 to $800 and are 150 to 250 square feet.
“There’s an expectation for how many people will be in a neighborhood, and we are breaking that predictability,” Bradburd said.
Parking and the issuance of Restricted Zone Permits were of particular concern — the discussion was punctuated with shouts from audience members when the topic was broached.
Rasmussen and Sugimura explained that the Department of Transportation issues a total of five parking permits (four plus one guest) per dwelling unit. In the case of microhousing, a dwelling unit is an entire multi-bedroom floor marked by the presence of a communal kitchen, not each individual living quarter.
In contrast to the other panelists, Valdez maintained that any additional regulations beyond those already in place would be burdensome to renters and elevate the cost “simply to appease neighbors who are afraid of change.”
He said that aPodments are in high demand and provide an innovative housing option for low-income renters, calling concern over the temporary nature of tenants “micromanagement of microhousing.”
The forum took place a few days after Rasmussen sent a memo to DPD that highlighted councilmembers’ requests, including a new definition of “microhousing,” tailored design review standards and a revised method of counting dwelling units for the purpose of tracking neighborhood growth targets. DPD officials are crafting legislation for review.
Councilmembers also asked for the department’s input on other possible amendments such as minimum size and mandatory private bathrooms, and requested information on trash storage, street parking and open spaces.
Sugimura handed out the memo to audience members prior to the discussion and said DPD officials will be working with the council to address the issues.
Rasmussen said the council aims to have final regulations passed by the end of the year.