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Notes from the Seattle microhousing forum: ‘fact finding’ + ‘podners’ + ‘out of scale’

Hey 'podner. A Calhoun rep makes his case

Hey ‘podner. A Calhoun rep makes his case

“The purpose of the meeting, is a fact finding meeting,” City Council member Tom Rasmussen said Thursday to kick off a “brown bag” lunchtime forum to discuss microhousing development in Seattle. Here’s the facts: most of the citizens who showed up in the middle of the work day to talk about aPodments, don’t like microhousing — “out of scale,” “too many,” “parking” — and many of those people live right here on Capitol Hill.

“The proliferation of these projects, in my neighborhood, Capitol Hill, is intense,” resident Carl Winter said during the public comments portion of Thursday’s session following a presentation by city staff about what their departments already have in the works to better regulate the dorm-style developments. We’ve embedded the presentation as well as the more-useful memo from city staff, below. If you also want to see the microhousing criticism — and a few defenders — first-hand, the Seattle Channel video is there, too. But we’re warning you — anger and frustration abounds if maybe falling a little short of the angry mobs with “pitchforks” Publicola promises.

From the city slides on microhousing shown Thursday

From the city slides on microhousing shown Thursday

It’s not clear if the Rasmussen-led discussion will be a precursor to a possible push for a moratorium on these developments that he told CHS he was considering.

Rasmussen said he has heard from people and groups all over the city but that the calls for action from Capitol Hill were especially strong. Winter and others involved with groups like Reasonable Density Seattle — we looked at the group’s efforts last year — took Thursday’s opportunity to make their case that the city is not acting quickly enough to better regulate the projects which skirt the city’s review processes for multi-unit developments by categorizing the buildings as boarding houses.

“I don’t care who lives in these places…the process is being circumvented,” one speaker said.

The buildings are “clearly college dormitories” another speaker complained.

DPD's map -- Here's ours

DPD’s map — Here’s ours

Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 11.26.40 AM

Carl Winter

Carl Winter

Not every speaker was a critic. A developer of one microhousing project spoke in favor of the developments and pleaded with the council members who attended the hearing not to further slow the process for independent developers like himself.

Meanwhile, a representative from Calhoun Properties, arguably the largest, most significant developer of microhousing in the city and owner of the aPodment brand took the microphone and tried to illustrate that tenants of his buildings are worthy, working, upstanding citizens. Calhoun partner Dirk Mulhair only sounded a little silly when he tried to slip in some marketing speak and call the residents ‘podners.” The ensuing chuckles were a rare moment of levity in what was otherwise a session full of much frowning.



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43 thoughts on “Notes from the Seattle microhousing forum: ‘fact finding’ + ‘podners’ + ‘out of scale’

  1. Has anyone done a study in Seattle to see how many residents of apodments (and other similar buildings with no parking spaces) own cars? I’ve seen a reference to a study in Portland where they found out that 72% of residents of buildings with no parking spots do own cars and park them on the street.

    Did this come up at the forum at all? Wondering if anyone has gathered this data in Seattle. It seems like there are enough of these buildings now that we should be able to do some actual studies like this.

  2. I got a chuckle out of the illustration showing the DeLorean in the parking spot. Would Marty McFly be PRO or CON apodments?

  3. THANK YOU! This is one of the single-most important issues to be taken into consideration and the one I have been bringing up constantly — to no avail. Evidently, if you are considered less than financially flush, the possibility that you will have a car is dismissed. I have been trying to point out the gross stupidity of such a rationale. When was the last time any of you drove all of the way down Mercer Street from Broadway early in the morning? You can barely navigate between the parked cars on either side of the street! And this bumper to bumper parking of cars is repeated on virtually all of the neighboring streets. Although it is nice and eco-friendly and terribly politically correct to encourage everyone to ride bicycles and/or use public transportation, it is also terribly unrealistic. There are people who HAVE to utilize their vehicles for commuting (many of them in order to transport the tools of their various trades) and it simply is ignoring the obvious to expect them to do otherwise. Listen, a lot of people live (and want to live) on Capitol Hill because they like the area. If that involves living in less expensive digs in order to reside on the Hill and still keep their car, they will do so. Making driving a car unpopular is simply NOT going to prevent people from having one. Ergo, PROVIDE ADEQUATE PARKING IN THESE NEW BUILDINGS.

  4. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I always believed that one of the ways we try to reduce the number of cars on the road is to reduce the number of parking spaces we build. It’s intended to create an inconvenience and encourage people to ditch their cars (as I did many years ago). Perhaps I’m naive, and like curious up above I would love to get hard numbers on this, but isn’t one of the major benefits of living in an urban area (and by extension, one of the benefits of microhousing) not having to own your own car? Aren’t we supposed to be focusing on improving public transit so fewer people will own cars? If you’re single and living in an apodment in the city, why would you need to own your own car?

    • Just adding on to Curious’ good response below….I certainly am a supporter of people ditching cars if they can. However, not only single people live on the Hill; I live on the edge of the Hill, and there (until recently, anyway) were three small families in my building. Parents often need a car; the Hill shouldn’t be some kind of theme park for upwardly mobile child-free adults.

      And public transit isn’t going to improve anytime soon. It would take me almost two hours (one-way) on various buses to get to my job, so I drive instead; it takes my partner nearly an hour (one-way) to go about four miles by bus. We can’t all work at Amazon in SLU, and those of us who don’t shouldn’t be punished for it, or somehow told that we don’t belong in the city because we need a car in order to get to work. I’m not suggesting that you’re saying that, but just be aware that there are in fact lots of us on the Hill who need a car to get to work, for various reasons. I don’t think public policy’s job is to turn an urban area into a place where only those who work there can live there.

  5. “I always believed that one of the ways we try to reduce the number of cars on the road is to reduce the number of parking spaces we build.”

    …That’s my question: Does reducing the number of parking spaces reduce the number of cars, or does it just push cars from garages out on to the street? Do the people who live in buildings with no parking spaces actually have fewer cars? What are the facts?

    “..isn’t one of the major benefits of living in an urban area (and by extension, one of the benefits of microhousing) not having to own your own car?”

    …Yes, but is Seattle’s current public transit system adequate to meet most people’s needs? For some lucky folks, who happen to be retired, or are students at a nearby college, or have a steady job downtown or at UW (for example) it might be adequate. For many people it is not, and they need a car unless they are willing to spend literally hours a day on the bus.

    “Aren’t we supposed to be focusing on improving public transit so fewer people will own cars?”

    …Yes, but how does removing parking spaces do anything to public transit? I’m all for improving public transit but I don’t see how removing parking spaces helps achieve that goal.

    “If you’re single and living in an apodment in the city, why would you need to own your own car?”

    …Maybe you are working for a temp agency, and you never know where you’ll be working from one week to the next. I was a temp for a while (without a car) and it was hell, because half the time they’d send me somehwere that required two transfers. During that time, “riding the bus” was my major extracurricular activity, and it sucked.

    …Or maybe you are a gigging musician, and you have instruments, amps, etc. to haul around hither and yon. Even if you could get all your gear on the bus, will it still be running at 3 am when your gig gets out?

    …Or maybe you are elderly or have a health problem. Have you ever tried to board a Metro bus on crutches? Fun times.

    Those are just some possible examples.

  6. We are one household that went from two cars to one, just recently. Transit fits my work commute, so its doable, so that is one less car on the hill. Of course, we paid for a parking spot, so I dodn’t help any of my neighbors looking for street parking.

  7. I live in one of the Apodment buildings (23rd E &Thomas) and have been following this debate with interest. Seattle definitely needs to legislate these projects, but it’s sad that a lot of the conversation seems to be centered around property values/the “right” kind of people to have in the city.

    Re: the car question in particular, I ditched mine for a small scooter/public transit as soon as I moved to the area. I’m not sure how typical that is of all micro-apartment complexes, but I see a lot of my neighbors on the bus every morning. My complex has 6 parking spaces for 42 units ($80/mo for one), and one of them is currently not being rented.

    • Thank you for this post. The voices of those who actually live in these projects have been strangely absent from this debate at least from what I’ve seen. Do you know if people who do not live in your apodment building are allowed to rent parking spaces in the building? In other words if someone lived in an apartment down the street, could they rent a parking spot there? Thank you

  8. One of my biggest problems with apodments is that developers claim that they are good for low-income folks because they are supposedly cheaper than other units on the market. Yet having had a friend who very briefly rented one and having looked online at their prices, they are typically $500-600/month. For a unit that has no kitchen and is typically less than the size of two parking spots. In many cases, it is cheaper to rent a room in a house, and that room is often larger than an apodment. I think we should focus on increasing the number of affordable studios–the shortage is the only reason my friend considered an apodment, and implementing price controls for apodments if we continue to allow them.

  9. If I were renting an apodment, I don’t think I would spend $80/mo. for a parking spot (aren’t street zone parking stickers still around $40/year?). Just saying.

  10. If you provide parking and charge them $125+ a spot (going rate on Capitol Hill) People still end up parking on the street because it is safer and all the parking spaces sit empty and become loss income. BTW why does the city owe you free parking anyways? Some single family homes do not have garages around these buildings either. If you have a garage park your car in the garage you have.

  11. I see the hearing was dominated by usual crew of squinty-eyed, purse-lipped, NIMBY screamers you see at any public hearing on land use issues, like such fine specimens of civility like Carl Winter’s “Reasonable Density” (aka “I Want Low Density”) Seattle. Yes, lets keep everything exactly as it was 40 years ago when Seattle was a glorified fishing village surrounded by an bunch of airplane hangars.

    Most of these whiners are just selfish property owners with an “I got mine, eff you” attitude that is both repulsive and sadly all too prevalent in society these days.

    With any luck, the Council sends it to die in a committee, or passes some watered down legislation that provides a design review-like process that will satisfy the moderates in the neighborhood, leaving the extremists to go shiver in the proverbial rain. Unlikely Rasmussen is going to get anyone to sign onto his ban.

    • Denizen — Find a way to be part of CHS without the attacking nature of your commentary. I’m interested in some of your ideas but your contributions bring out too much non-productive, ugly response. You can find other venues if this doesn’t make sense to you or you can’t find a new way to add to the site.

  12. The anti-apodment/pro-street parking argument is a little selfish and getting stale. We should frown on the density and the affordability apodments bring, because some people have trouble finding street parking spots?
    Such victims!
    Screw people that want to live near downtown jobs and surrounding colleges. Force those people to surrounding neighborhoods and into cars!
    I want to drive long distances to work and nobody is going to get in my way. I will never live close to work! I want it all, daddy!
    I’ll never pay for parking, we should build more garages, so I can keep my free street parking. I’m entitled to free street parking, nobody else is.
    What about all of those other people that have a car out of necessity of life? I’ll use them as my scapegoat to support my claims and not think twice of how I’m taking their needed free street parking spots on a daily basis.
    Say no to dense-vibrant neighborhoods, say yes to my subsidized “free” street parking!

  13. This is not about paid or free parking it’s about AVAILABILITY of parking in general. It’s a city, people expect to pay for parking here…I would just like the option for a spot to park in. A 42/56 unit building (which is the crux of this story and post) that ISN’T supplying parking for a majority of the tenants (it is very cute to think ppl in apodments (all of them) do not have cars)….is not helping out the crunch of parking in this part of town. Please go re-read the post. NO PARKING required for 56 units…there has to be a medium.

  14. All comments regarding living in your car aside, the visual aids/graphics of comparisons between a normal parking spot v. a micro-housing apartment v. a regulation basketball court lane is absolutely wonderful. Thank you for enabling me to actually picture the measurements that are always bandied about.

  15. You just wrote the same thing Cars Over People did, only you actually mean what you say and he/she is being sarcastic.
    Who missed the point?

  16. Oh yah you are right, the last sentence of that snarky rant makes that clear. apples and apples there on those posts.

    Say no to dense-vibrant neighborhoods, say yes to my subsidized “free” street parking!

  17. Not meant to offend; I simply wanted to display the pretentiousness of an entitled-to-street-parking-attitude. When developers are forced to supply parking spots through city mandated minimum parking requirements they lose land and building supplies on what could have been more profitable living spaces. The cost of parking ($80-$150) in said spot does not cover the lost income and property taxes to the developer. No business owner likes to operate without profit. Therefore, the fresh-new parking spaces drive up the cost of rent. If residents choose to abandon on site parking spaces because of price and park on the street, the price of rent will increase further. This is disconcerting, especially when on a month-to-month lease and rent increases can hit tenants at anytime.

  18. Correct me if I’m wrong, but even a 56 unit apartment building isn’t required to provide parking. So what’s the deal with everyone worried about parking for these?

  19. I can’t shake the feeling that Apodments are penny wise and pound foolish. They will drive up the cost of studio,one bedroom, two bedroom apartments and push affordable housing even further out of reach for many. Very shortly, only the upper end and the lower end of the earning population will be able to live here(CHPP, SHA and others are good programs).
    I’m not against density but I would like to see it follow a sensible urban plan. I’m not the least bit concerned about the “right kind of people”(I’m sure all Apodment dwellers are quite fine), I do not own a million dollar home and I don’t own – or want to own – car.
    Capitol Hill has already exceeded its projected growth plan (I believe its at 130%) and while we need to “think” density – I don’t think we should exempt Apodments from the SEPA process. Are we really saying that environmental impact studies should be disregarded for these buildings? Doesn’t sound very sensible to me. As a matter of fact, it sounds down right dumb.
    The car thing is distressing. I read, with interest, the post(above) claiming that the presence of paid parking spaces in an apart/apodment drive up the cost of rent because they developer can’t recoup the cost of building them – would like some more information about it. I do know that buildings that lack parking put their tenants cars on the street and ratchets up the density(poorly planned?) that we are experiencing. The upper echelon will keep their cars – it will make the lowest earners scramble. I think getting cars off the road is a good thing – but I hate that this might be achieved by making it increasingly difficult for low wage earners.
    Lately it seems like Capitol Hill is a gold mine to developers. Why, in addition to an almost guarantee of near full occupancy, do we need to make concessions? It seems like asking them to include any attribute that would ease congestion would be in order.
    Interesting fact: I can’t remember where I read it – maybe someone else read it too and can post where – 8 -11% of the apodments are going to suburbanites that want an address close to downtown to get the resident parking sticker. There was a quote from a Kirkland guy who rented one so he could spend the night there after the Opera – so he wouldn’t have to drive home. Affordable housing?

  20. I agree that the concessions made to developers is out of hand. No environmental impact study(SEPA)? Are they worried about something?, Calling it a single dwelling, no parking. Its NOT affordable housing. It’s a developers wet dream.

  21. Some further clarification of your comment policy might be helpful Justin. You seem to be fine when your readers write things such as “Mayor McGinn is sucking the c–k of every developer in town”, yet Denizen’s comment above crossed a line?

    Nasty personal attacks seems to be encouraged as long as they’re aimed at developers, elected officials, DPD employees or anyone that might live in this housing type. However, those opposed to apodments are off limits.

    Why not just cut to the chase and tell Denizen that he/she can find other venues if they don’t agree with your very obvious opinion on this issue.

    Your bias in the treatment of this important issue would make the producers at Fox News jealous.

    • An ongoing fascination for me after doing this for more than five years is how the individuals who “hate” the site or think it’s “unfair” or that I am “biased” continue to come to the site. Thanks for reading.

      • Wow. I’ll keep tracking this blog because there isn’t yet a better way to track community events, but I certainly won’t be contributing to the comment section here anymore if this is the kind of passive-aggressive, fallacy-laden non-response the editors make to criticism.

  22. In response to CHS Fair and Balanced: I truly had to laugh because for months now, I have harbored this thought in the back of my mind that JSeattle is favoring developers here on the Hill! Sheesh, I’m so glad I don’t have to put myself out there with this blog because apparently, this is such a contentious issue that you can’t win. Regardless of what “side” you are on, I have truly had to be a bit more mindful of those who hold views different than mine precisely BECAUSE of the CHS blog — and I don’t feel that the writer of the post above who had to be called out is respectful of others’ views so, he/she got what they deserved. Not everyone who is disrespectful of others gets corrected but those who do probably deserve it and it keeps the rest of us a bit more polite — something it wouldn’t hurt you to be a bit more mindful of, IMO.

  23. Hey km. If you interested in the environmental and financial impacts of building parking, there is one of many resources here. Use the “select area” drop down box above the map to select a specific neighborhood. Fast facts: there are 8,931 on site parking spots (does not include street parking) on Capitol Hill, costing $53.7 billion in capital costs (land and construction).

  24. I don’t think so, but you could always look into it! I’ve had some bizarre interactions with Calhoun Property Management (they’re not the worst landlord I’ve had, but definitely not the best); who knows whether they’ve even considered that kind of thing, and what they’d do with the suggestion.

    I don’t think many Apodment-dwellers participate in these discussions for a few reasons, mainly two:

    a) Most of the important stuff seems to happen during the workday, and all of my neighbors (that I’m acquainted with; some of them either keep to themselves or have another primary residence, so I never see them) either work M-F/9-5 type hours or go to school.

    b) A lot of us are new to the area, and I think people with “roots” in Seattle are inclined to be more passionate about building code reform and sustainable population growth. Myself, I grew up in this area (I actually went to high school in the early ’00s blocks from where I live now, at Holy Names), so it makes sense that I’m more invested than say, my upstairs neighbor who just moved here from LA and is living here temporarily while he looks for a more spacious, permanent residence elsewhere, or my nextdoor neighbor who moved here last summer from Virginia.

  25. caphilldenizen – why do you think people want a 40 year old fishing village? This stupefies me – because people do not agree with the method by which change is occurring does not mean they are afraid of change. If the barber cut your hair not to your liking – Would you be afraid of hair?
    I, personally, don’t mind the outburst for which you were reprimanded (sorry Justin) but when you make these knee-jerk statements it so easy to completely dismiss you. Even if we disagree, Say something. >

  26. Thank you. I agree. JSeattle has been a leader in the charge against micro-housing and is not at all unbiased.

  27. Thank you for your response, I appreciate it. Anecdotally at least, do you have a feel for what percentage of folks in your apodment building own a car? Like even if they commute to work by bus and do errands on foot, etc. do they still own a car for weekend trips and what-not? Stats from one building might not mean that much, but would be interesting to know (at least to me)

  28. Wow . . my apartment is an eight unit building owned by an individual who is on site. My rent just went up $175.00(darn month to month leases). Guess why? He told us Apods were renting for $600 – $700. KM was right – the upward spiral begins.

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