Up against rent boom and affordability crunch, residents worry about plan to change 1924-built Royvue into microhousing

Residents of a classic 94-year-old Capitol Hill apartment building hope to organize against a plan to gut the structure and turn its 34 apartments — some as large as four or five room spaces — into more than 100 units of microhousing.

“Everyone in the building is obviously going to be kicked out,” one resident tells CHS of the project. “This place is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve seen in the neighborhood and I can’t believe there aren’t any checks in place to preserve other ones like it.”

In an affordability crunch and a boom market for rents, Seattle is doing everything it can to create more homes and landlords on Capitol Hill have been particularly creative trading away parking and laundry rooms (and sometimes retail space) for more places to live.


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Plans for the Royvue building in the 600 block of Bellevue Ave E on the western slope of Capitol Hill below Broadway call for the landmark-worthy property recognized as a “Seattle Historical Site” to undergo “a substantial alteration and addition.” The 1924-built, three-story building will be overhauled to create 147 small efficiency dwelling units. Each microhousing unit “must have a minimum room size of 150 square feet and a full kitchen or kitchenette” to meet city standards. The plans apparently will require the U-shaped building’s signature 100×50-foot courtyard — the building is known as the Royvue Garden apartments in city records — to be built over, according to preliminary plans filed with the department of construction and inspections.

Residents say they have been told a new buyer is lined up for the building and is pursuing the redevelopment plan for the project titled Anew 615 Bellevue in the documentation filed with the city.

“The prospective buyers want to completely gut and empty the Royvue and cram it with overpriced micro studios that won’t help reduce rent prices or help homeless stop living in their cars,” a tenant said. “Apparently what this group does is take vintage buildings only, gut them and fill them with micro studios.”

According to King County records, the Royvue currently remains in the hands of a group of real estate investors that has held the property for decades. The property management company Alliance Management is listed on the construction permit along with a Seattle architect. A corporation included in the documents as the new owner behind the planned project either has not been formed yet or is not yet doing business in Washington. CHS was unable to find records for the company.

CHS’s calls to Alliance and an attorney representing the building’s existing ownership group have not been returned.

Residents are now trying to sort out what to do next. Wednesday, a group was scheduled to meet with a representative from Historic Seattle to learn more about possible preservation options. An obvious but time consuming and potentially expensive avenue is seeking landmarks protections for the building’s interior and exterior. Across Roy from the Royvue, the BelRoy was landmarked and redeveloped as a new project wrapping a modern apartment wing around the preserved but overhauled Modernist-style historic building that has stood at the corner since 1931.

The Royvue has plenty of landmark potential and does not appear to be on the city’s list (PDF) of seismically vulnerable “unreinforced masonry buildings.” A survey of potentially historic sites within Capitol Hill’s preservation district determined “this property appears to meet the criteria of the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Ordinance” in 2006:

This garden apartment building is unusual for the size of its rear garden, enclosed by the U-shaped structure. It was designed in 1924 by architect Charles Haynes for Willis and Guy Bergman, who owned the nearby La Crosse apartments. It originally had 33 apartments (later increased to 34); 26 of them are larger-than-average, with 4 or 5 rooms. It had features such as oak floors, tile baths and refrigeration. This is a particularly elegant and relatively early example of the many apartment buildings constructed in the 1920s, when Seattle experienced a major construction boom. The city’s population had increased dramatically in previous decades, and prosperity encouraged developers to meet the pent-up demand for housing. Apartments, ranging from basic housing to luxury units, were a significant factor in meeting this need, and became a major element of the streetscape in many Seattle neighborhoods.

“The West Capitol Hill had easy streetcar access to downtown and the street was lined with small apartment buildings, often using fine materials and detailing,” the survey write-up concludes. Sounds lovely.

UPDATE 4/7/2018: A group has posted a “Save the Roy Vue” petition to “support the landmarking of this unique community anchor.” You can learn more at savetheroyvue.com.

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67 thoughts on “Up against rent boom and affordability crunch, residents worry about plan to change 1924-built Royvue into microhousing

  1. This is a real shame both for the displacement of current residents, and the conversion of this into basically dorm rooms. I can only hope they at least keep the exterior intact but I imagine the interiors will be a disaster of modern architecture.

    • I’m not sure how they can keep the exterior unchanged, because all the beautiful windows would have to be remodeled to acommodate the microhousing plan. The only way to ensure this would be to get landmark status.

      This article states that this building is recognized as a “Seattle Historical Site.” What does this designation mean? I assume it is not the same as landmarked status.

    • Seattle is I believe somewhat unique in allowing the 150sq ft units. That may be the root of the problem, since it will be tempting to any developer to squeeze them in. While we need density, allowing the micro unit is a deal with the devil.

      If I could upzone my 2400sq ft home, I could get hmm – 15 units and not provide any parking. $$$ !

    • I would suppose that a “dorm room” is all that many people really need. It would be enough for me, if it was not for all of the cr*p that I have accumulated in my life!

  2. http://www.allianceapts.com/royvue/

    Has interior etc. I could imagine protecting the exterior, but the interior doesn’t seem anything architecturally unique.

    At the end of the day, someone has spent $m buying the building and it probably doesn’t pencil out in its existing state. It may be another symptom of landlords concern about first inline, rent control etc etc that they want out of owning rentals and the market is at all time high before interest rates start to slow things down.

  3. Would these residents be equally as upset if they were being kicked out due to the building converting to condo? The downside of being a renter is you have to be flexible. Your housing in the apartment building is not guaranteed beyond your lease.

    As long as the new owner complies with city standards, there is nothing these renters can do.

    • I’m a resident. I would NOT be equally upset if this building was going down to bring in 3 times the amount of units at comparable size (~800 sq ft). There’s no scenario I would want to see this beautiful building go down, but replacing it with microhousing is the most offensive way to do it.

    • Yes Ryan – it will be small and old and probably in Skyway – but there are still some moderately priced houses available. Even up here if you are patient and lucky… Someone bought a house on my block for 300K last year. The catch was he wasn’t allowed to go inside. until after he purchased it and it had been empty for as long as I can recall – which means 20+ years. He lucked out and it was decent inside still.

      There’s also condos and co-ops which tend to be cheaper, though you have to factor in the monthly fees.

    • CD Cyclist, I’m talking about Seattle proper. I know there are more options to purchase within driving distance to the city. I’m just calling bullshit suggesting that renting is a “choice” in the downtown area.

    • There are Ryan….you just need to look and not really all that hard… and you have to be willing to compromise. No – you are not going to get a nice big old house with yard up on the hill for a reasonable price – they weren’t even remotely within reach 20 years ago when I moved here – even when the real estate bubble popped in 98, prices here didn’t budge. You might not be as close as you like or have something as big as you want, it’ll probably be ugly and outdated and need lots of TLC, but you can make it happen.

      Heck – I would *love* to have been able to get one of those great homes up a bit further north – but I bought what I could afford – which was a fixer-upper in a spot that, at the time, had crack dealers and prostitutes and was sketchy in the day time, much less after dark…

      You have to be willing to work at it. I know a single guy in his 30’s who just purchased up here recently. He’s not rich, nor is he particularly privileged, but he knew from a young age what he wanted. He bought a house down in Auburn when he was quite young and he sucked up the commute for a long time. When he got really tired of it, he rented that house out and rented a small place up here on the hill for a few years. A couple of months ago he sold that house and bought a small condo up here. He’s not rich – he’s smart and motivated and understands that he’s not going to just be immediately handed what he wants.

      There’s definitely places – a quick search finds 73 hits for properties under $400,000 on Zillow. In fact, I found a condo 2 blocks from Seattle Center in a rather nice looking building for $295,000.. $350,000 on Yessler.

  4. Sorry for the existing renters, but look at the bigger picture. The building is going from 34 to 100 units. Net increase of 64 housing units, at a time Seattle faces a serious housing crunch. This type of conversion should be good news for affordable housing advocates.

    • Come on…. people will not realistically *stay* in a 150 square foot unit.. this building will become a transitory place, not a place where people choose to -live-… Even the average “small” condo in Manila – the *most dense city in the world* is around 500 square feet and those are considered to only be attractive to investors and young single people…

      This would not represent “affordable housing” in the slightest..

    • As a concept, I agree with you. The city needs to expand w/ the population. However, taking a building this large in this good of condition w/ this many residents and tearing it down for microhousing is NOT the way to handle this problem. We aren’t comparing apples to apples when you’re talking about 1000 sq ft apartments being replaced w/ microhousing. Quality of life needs to be factored in here.

    • Agree with CD Cyclist and Ryan here. A better investment in the future is larger apartments–big enough for a couple or a family. Tiny dorm rooms are just made for a very transient population. The two bedroom apartment is a rara avis in Capitol Hill. With the price of houses going through the roof, adult-sized apartments are going to be more and more desirable (as they have been in large cities on the east coast since the 1800s).

    • Do we want a neighborhood of people who are just here temporarily and therefore are not emotionally (or financially) invested in the community, or do we want a neighborhood of people who are in it for the longer run and who care about the livability of the city they live in? I say the latter.

  5. Actually, this is the only way to reduce the housing crisis, add more units. Sorry to the current renters who have 4-5 room supper units, and cheap rents. But the rest of us could use some help; increase density and rents will go down and less people living in their cars or on the streets.

    • What is your basis for saying “rents will go down” due to this proposed project? Capitol Hill for example has been adding many units. Rents have not gone down. As there are people who will pay for the existing high rents. I’m not an expert, but I think it’s more complicated than that. There are other institutions and laws that are part of the financial equation. I personally don’t think adding units would make a dramatic difference unless there were a large number of extremely tall buildings in a wide range of neighborhoods and that those buildings were as close as possible to reliable public transportation. Seattle isn’t growing in a way that makes space for everyone equally.

    • For the record, there are only four 2 bedroom units in this building. They each have the 2 bedrooms, a living room, a dining room a very small kitchnette and a very small bathroom. The rest of the units are one bedroom and include the same setup (minus the additional bedroom). Should we nuke all the buildings that actually have a dining room? I understand that’s a bit of luxury, but how many of those apartments are actually on the market? IMHO, let’s keep an already scarce feature in the market and focus our microhousing efforts elsewhere.

    • What logic are you using here? Paying less for super units, have you ever looked at CL? This city is crazy expensive with NO rent control and units that have 2 bedrooms, or one with a den are becoming more scarce as these developments continue. This makes units like this even more expensive for those who need to split rent, require more space, have families… How is making more micro units that become a place where you pay an offensive amount in rent to place a bed, your most necessary possessions while sacrificing a sense of community, charm and character of these buildings while making the rich get richer… Wake up, this isn’t to help a housing crisis. A 350sf $1,500/mo rent is not affordable and should not be the new standard in space/price.

    • @ Steve: Remarkably, rents did go down in the early 2000s after the dot com bust. A one bedroom that was $850/month went down to $750 with a free month’s rent thrown in. This seemed more due to jobs leaving than housing stock increasing. Weird, but true.

    • @neighbor – Bingo…. rents will go down when there’s an economic downturn and fewer people want to live here…. and when that happens we will be stuck with a bunch of crappily built, ugly buildings with apartments that are so small that no one who’s left wants them that aren’t even worth renovating because they have no redeeming qualities in the first place…

    • If increasing units lower rents, how do you explain the fact that thousands of new units have been built in Seattle, yet rents continue to go up and up and up?

    • Bob–It’s simple: even though the number of units has increased, the demand for housing has increased even faster (because of dramatic job growth, population increase). If all the other variables were held constant, increasing the number of units would decrease price, at least in real terms (as inflation eats away at the purchasing power of money, holding nominal rent constant is actually a decrease). Another way to think of it is that if more units had not been created these last few years, rent would be even higher than it is now.

    • @Scott – and we could kick everyone out and level old Capitol Hill then build it all up with high rises and fit more and more and more people in, and maybe the rents would be a bit cheaper, but what would it do to the standard of living and would the people who absolutely *need* to live in this neighborhood even want it anymore if we did that?

      There are “costs” that you cannot measure in pure dollars and cents.

  6. Microhousing is essentially a race to the bottom in quality of life and it doesn’t actually lower prices. Increased density should come from building taller buildings, not cramming more people into today’s apartment buildings and reducing the standard of living.

    • Having watched some of the meetings of the council land use and planning committee (Rob Johnson et al) I start to wonder if we need to hire professionals with some integrity to help guide our growth.

      The micro apt is not a viable solution – let alone that the city then allowed developers to turn them into Airbnb units (Roy st).

  7. “Sorry to the current renters”. Yeah, sorry you’ve been able to afford living here up til now. My needs outweigh yours. This plan won’t keep people off the streets – more low-income seniors and vulnerable middle class workers are forced out of the city or into homelessness daily because our wages haven’t risen with the cost of living and our below-market housing is being demolished and upscaled at an alarming rate. There is a 2 year waiting list for affordable senior housing. If you want to keep people off the street, STOP EVICTING THEM.

  8. this is a travesty – The RoyVue gives texture and pleasure to all of us – refreshment to the pedestrian peeking into that courtyard, respite in the dense city – what other options could there be for the preservation of this building? Unfortunately, when a building such as this is sold, the rents will skyrocket, no matter what the future plan is.

  9. Partly a result of extremely low interest rates available to some such as banks. With other assets, stocks, bonds, etc valued in bubble territory now, these options begin to look appealing as a place to sink capital. Money talks, everybody else walks as we all know.

  10. I’m fucking devastated. I can’t believe this is happening, the building wasn’t even up for sale. The developers are paying the appraised value price plus an additional $5M, tearing down and building up. This wouldn’t even be possible in San Francisco or New York where these properties are fully protected. Their sneaky approach of buying vintage buildings around Seattle for this type of development is unique, no one else is doing this and I hope our community raises their voices and the city protects these properties.

    • Everyone that owns such an asset at some point wants to exit – retire, move, reinvest etc. The typical return on owning a rental bldg is 5% – so to make $100k a year you would need to invest $2m, and then manage it.

      I don’t blame anyone for selling. Property is just too expensive in Seattle, and words like rent control scare owners…

    • Mrairbnb, “I only get 5% interest on my $2m dollar investment” leaves me zero room for sympathy on the seller’s part. This is not coffee beans your trading. It’s peoples homes. Not to mention, this seller sold to the worst possible type of investor. Replacing this building w/ microhousing is an offense to everything that’s made Capitol Hill a great neighborhood. Culture is the commodity these people are making a buck off of, and they are grinding it into extinction. Go make a profit off a $2m home that you and your family live in. That’s fine. Stop fucking w/ other people’s families.

  11. I live on Capitol Hill and have for many years. I’m a middle-aged man with a good job, enjoy living on the hill and yes, I remember Capitol Hill when I was a teenager in the 1980’s and while we have come a long, long way from that it seems we just keep going in the wrong direction. Why? Greed. Developers. People like Christian Brodin (look him up – he’s evil) and Alliance Management who don’t care about the quality of life here, they just want to make returns on their investment.

    I’m so sick of Seattle letting this happen. My neighborhood, in between Broadway and 15th, near Volunteer Park, sees about every fourth old house torn down to be replaced with a cold BOX, devoid of personality. The architecture is hideous but just as bad are the cold, soulless people who buy them and walk around the neighborhood with frowns on their faces, not looking anyone in the eye.

    Enough! We need to fight the developers and we need to get dirty. They won’t listen otherwise. Find out where some of them live, like Christian Brodin, or the terrible architect Robert Humble and camp outside on the sidewalk – public property – or mail them letters, something! ENOUGH!

  12. @steve, your landlord is never going to voluntarily lower your rent, but if the market is soft you can ask for a decrease. I did, and got a $75/mo decrease a few years ago in lower capitol hill. That’s where overall supply and demand starts to matter…

  13. Remember when they said Apodments would make living in the city “affordable” for a wider range of workers? And then it actually happened? Oh, wait— that second part never actually happened, did it?

  14. I have a question to all. Does everyone deserve to live in every neighborhood? I understand that change is difficult but we all go through it. Does ever neighborhood need to accommodate everyone? Why can’t people move to other parts of town? What is so special about living on “The Hill” as opposed to other locations in the city? There are many places I would like to live but I don’t feel entitled to living in Manhattan.

    • “Does everyone deserve to live in every neighborhood?”
      – Oooff…what you’re hinting at here is kind of a dangerous way to start thinking.

      “Why can’t people move to other parts of town?”
      – Look back at our country’s history and what happens when people are displaced from their neighborhoods.

      “What is so special about living on “The Hill” as opposed to other locations in the city?”
      – Buildings like the Roy Vue and the people who live inside them. Capitol Hill is special because of the land, the buildings and the people that have developed it over the decades. You cannot just move to another neighborhood and recreate that. It’s morally bankrupt to cash in on culture like this and start attacking the soul of this neighborhood, even if it’s legal in Seattle. Other cities have protections against it b/c things like this have happened.

      It’s one thing to raise prices, it’s another thing to destroy the building all together for microhousing. One of these things is inevitable and just the way it goes. The other is preventable and will turn neighborhoods into cold, human holding facilities.

    • There are lots of old buildings all over Seattle, many of which are being neglected because the only place anyone cares about is Capitol Hill, Queen Anne, First Hill, etc.. Eventually we’ll hit a limit anyway to how many people we can cram into the places people are already crammed into. We’re just kicking the can down the road. The sooner we get to re-developing more places, the sooner we’ll get to expanding infrastructure, improve roads, improved transit, etc. Capitol Hill just by virtue of having the most vocal residents probably already over-consumes disproportionately more of the city’s resources than a lot of places with equally deserving residents. It’s not like money is being wasted on stupid crap like PacMan parks all over Seattle….

    • @Jim98122x, you are totally missing the point. I generally agree with you, but it’s all about context. I’m ALL FOR more development on Capitol Hill, but we should be judicious about which buildings we’re tearing down and what they’re being replaced with…unless we don’t care about culture or quality of life. If we don’t, just grind these buildings up into a fine grain and let’s snort them up our fucking noses w/ all the money to be made off of them.

  15. @Heather87 “What’s so special about living on the Hill?” Well, the main reason is it’s been my HOME for years. The librarians, the baristas, the folks at every restaurant and grocery store recognize me. My doctors are on the HIll. So yeah, it’s pretty special to me. Most of the people struggling with this are long time residents who are being forced out and it’s not easy for every person to completely rebuild their support system.

  16. To add to the discussion, let’s keep in mind that living in the Roy Vue and in Capitol Hill is not necessarily a choice, but has much to do with peoples livelihood and ability to exist. I’m a tenant in the Roy Vue, and count among my neighbors in the building seniors on fixed incomes and families with kids. I work part-time at a nonprofit, live with a disability, and couldn’t afford the cost of moving, let alone saving for first & last. The fact is, all of the renters here at the Roy Vue, regardless of income, may lose our homes and neighborhood. The issue of entitlement is not applicable to us renters but rather the owners who can elect to evict 60+ people in the interest of profit (and make no mistake, they must be able to show their micro units will be profitable to secure a bank loan in the millions). Should developers be entitled to displace a building of residents? There are many ways to answer that question, but please consider the moral and ethical impact of eviction when you engage in this discussion.

    • Thank you for the thoughtful response. I do realize that not everyone is in a situation where they can easily move due to financial, mental, or physical reasons. It’s unfortunate. These days having first and last upfront is quite a burden. I’ve certainly taken out payday loans for this sort of thing in the past. It taught me a lesson.

      Us renters need to realize that we are in a contract with property owners. In this case I do think property owners are entitled to do with their property as they please. Is this morally right or ethical? I don’t have the answer to that. Renters take a chance in this contract process especially in “desirable” neighborhoods.

      Are people suggesting that we have “protections” that force property owners to yield to renters who don’t want to leave a building?

      From the other responses to my original question it seems like every neighborhood can’t accommodate every person. Is anyone disagreeing with that thought?

    • “Us renters need to realize that we are in a contract with property owners.”
      – You’re absolutely right, but we should fight for contracts that are more fair for renters and we should also fight to protect our neighborhood from gross destruction. As I’ve been stating, it’s all about context. This building should not be going down to support unaffordable, unsustainable microhousing units. Culture and quality of life matter.

      “Are people suggesting that we have “protections” that force property owners to yield to renters who don’t want to leave a building?”
      – To some extent, definitely. Other major cities have protections in place to ensure neighborhoods are not gutted and that current residents are compensated fairly for being displaced.

      “From the other responses to my original question it seems like every neighborhood can’t accommodate every person. Is anyone disagreeing with that thought?”
      – I think we have to be really careful about how far we take this sentiment. Supply and demand are real. It will drive people in and out of neighborhoods, but we don’t want to pour gasoline on the fire and we want to ensure the people that worked to make these neighborhoods desirable in the first place are carefully considered.

  17. Here’s what you should expect to replace the Roy Vue from Brad Padden and his partners at Anew Apartments.

    Brand New Micro Suites + Free WiFi – Vintage Property – Affordable!

    Studio, 1 ba, 180 Sq. Ft., $1,225 per month

    https://www.anewapartments.com/vacancies/

    My current rent at Roy Vue is $2.36 per square foot. This is $6.8 per square foot. Please stop saying this will help the affordability crisis in Seattle.

  18. Wow! I was vaguely aware that apodment units were not a bargain, but $1225/ month for 180 sq ft? That is outrageous, and a perfect example of how today’s developers deserve to be called “rapacious.” They are in the process of screwing over our neighborhoods and enriching themselves in the process. Shame!

  19. The proposed renovations to the Roy Vue, at over $1000 a “microunit”, create more housing, not affordable housing. This is exactly the kind of development the city needs less of, not more. Not to mention the distinct and historic piece of architecture the neighborhood loses in the gamble.

  20. I live in the RoyVue and leaving my community would heartbreaking and disruptive and stressful. I understand the need for additional housing, but it should be affordable housing especially given that the new development involves displacement of families and the elderly.

  21. Not defending the concept or price but the example you provide of 180 sqft is for a 180 sqft private room which has access to seemingly swank shared space for kitchen, dinning and lounging. Your per sqft price are not directly comparable. Not saying it it a good deal or anything, it’s just different.

  22. Not defending the concept or price but the example you provide of 180 sqft is for a 180 sqft private room which has access to seemingly swank shared space for kitchen, dinning and lounging. Your per sqft price are not directly comparable. Not saying it it a good deal or anything, it’s just different.

  23. I’m not including our courtyard in the current cost per sq ft. Do you really want to tell me these shared spaces are comparable? If anything, the courtyard is going to eclipse the “swank” kitchen in value.

  24. I really hope this building can be saved. We are turning into a city built around Tech just like Detroit was built around automobiles and efficiency/profit are the drivers instead of us becoming an iconic city with its own distinctive charm.

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