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CHS Community Post | Two years of being an aPodment building neighbor

I bought and moved into a condominium on Seattle’s Capitol Hill in the summer of 2012. At a time when most properties on the Hill sold within a week or two, my home was on the market for a month. I suspect that many buyers were scared off by the construction site next door where Alturra, an aPodment building, was under construction.

I toured Alturra shortly before it opened in November 2012. The units ranged from extremely small (90 square feet) to small and inconvenient (a 200-square-foot, 4-story walkup). They were priced from $600 to $1,200 a month including utilities and Internet and they rented very quickly. The minimum lease of 3 months made them attractive for transplants and temporary residents. Many of my neighbors were skeptical that Alturra residents would be a good addition to my neighborhood.

After two years of being a neighbor of the Alturra, the complaints have largely died down. How have my space-constrained neighbors affected my community in the last two years?

Parking is still terrible. The Alturra has no parking spaces so residents with cars need to park on the local streets. A corner of my building’s parking lot has been turned into an impromptu aPodment loading zone, annoying some of my neighbors, although it’s rare that a car stays there long enough for a tow truck or a police officer to come by. It’s hard to say whether the street parking situation has worsened because of aPodments because it’s been very hard to park in the area for many years. Speaking as a non-car-owner, I like the area because of its ready access to buses, Zipcars, car2go cars, and soon a streetcar and light rail stop.

The rooftop decks are popular and noisy. There are six small rooftop decks for Alturra residents. The highest-price penthouses also have tiny balconies. During the hot summer months these are frequently used and often loud. Neither my building nor the Alturra have air conditioning so when the windows open up, the noise levels do too.

My neighborhood retains its class diversity. I don’t want to live in a monoculture. At the Seattle Night Out party my building hosted in August 2014, I met neighbors from around my block including several Alturra residents. I appreciate that my neighborhood can attract people young and old, rich and poor, with many different occupations. aPodments are one way to keep rents affordable for more people, and Alturra has attracted a surprisingly broad mix of students, full-time workers, and recent college grads saving up for their first real apartment.

In time I think we’ll look back on the micro-apartment trend and laugh at the worry it stirred up. These buildings are going up to cash in on a hunger for inexpensive housing at a time when market-rate buildings are in short supply. As of 2013 the city had added 15,000 jobs year-over-year while only 9,000 housing units were expected to become available for each of the next five years. With Amazon on pace to have enough office space for 71,500 Seattle employees by 2019, the math favors landlords and builders today. Ten years from now I expect that we’ll have a more resident-friendly housing market once all the construction is complete and companies have tapered off their hiring.

There’s a sense that rents can “never” go down in Seattle, but I’ve seen it firsthand in 2008–09 when Washington Mutual had collapsed and when tech companies put a hold on hiring. A rent drop can and will happen again. Maybe these micro-apartment buildings will eventually be pared down to have fewer apartments by knocking down some or all interior walls. With the most modification, aPodments can become groups of townhouses — the last housing innovation that caused outrage in Seattle’s residential neighborhoods. Alternatively, like so many residential buildings that have gone up here in the past 120 years, they can be sold, knocked down, and rebuilt in a new developer’s image. After all, this is Seattle, where we’ll get it right eventually.

I’m Jason Weill, a software engineer at Tableau Software and Treasurer of the Alpine Villa Apartment Owners Association. The opinions expressed above are strictly my own and do not represent those of my employer or of my condominium’s homeowners association. I have no financial stake in any micro-apartment companies.

This post is adapted from “On having lived next to an aPodment for two years,” which I posted on my personal web site January 3, 2015.

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24 thoughts on “CHS Community Post | Two years of being an aPodment building neighbor” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. I’m happy for you, and everyone within arms reach of you.

    Where apodments apparently work, they have a variety of mobility infrastructure that makes not owning a car a practical option for some.
    The linked story was written by somebody that lives within walking distance of downtown.
    Policy that pretends that this infrastructure exists, or will ever exist, everywhere the zoning is applied beyond the practical walking distance of major employers is just not very smart.

    “Speaking as a non-car-owner, I like the area because of its ready access to buses, Zipcars, car2go cars, and soon a streetcar and light rail stop.”

    This zoning applies to parts of the city that do not have all of that. It might make sense for trolley town and streetcar city, and that’s about it.

  2. I’ve never had any beef with aPodments or those who live in them. I appreciate the ability to live in small spaces. My condo is a very comfortable 590 sqft. We need to start doing more with less.

    What I (and most that I recall) have issue with is the builders circumventing building regulations and saying these are something they are not which made them immune to land use review. Just because of the unit size, they shouldn’t be treated differently than conventional apartments. We want everyone, builders and renters, to be treated fairly and equally.

    I had an aPodment building open across the street about a year ago. We had decent on street parking before and it doesn’t seem to be impacted availability now that the building is full (and it filled quickly).

  3. I’m glad it works well for you, Jason, and it hasn’t been a burden for you as a neighbor. But if your perspective is intended to ease concerns people have expressed that might be seen as overblown, it sure doesn’t for me. In fact for me, it just confirms them all the more. I don’t live close enough to the Capitol Hill core for apodments to likely catch on in my neighborhood anytime soon (I think!), and for this I’m very glad.

  4. I’m also happy that this has worked out for you. but your voice is just one voice out of many. And it doesn’t make me glad and happy regarding the aPods and the very (very) many other structures being thrown up into the air with no apparent thought for surface streets, amenities, anything else. And I’m not talking about additional pho places. To me, and many more, it still feels like it’s 20 pounds of stuff in a 10-pound bag. there is an upper limit of how many people can fit in an area. Every tree that comes down on E John when the house(s) on the lots come down is concerning, because what’s put there is built right to the sidewalk. One of the newer places (condo or apartm, I don’t know) on E John across from the key place – I’m astonished at how close the kitchen is to the sidewalk.

    • If not pho places, what are you talking about? You seem to have concerns with more people moving in here, can you be more specific?

      Most cities in the list of livable cities are as dense or more than CH, but pretty much points that there’s no correlation between quality of live for neighbors and the density.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World%27s_most_liveable_cities

      We can definitely fit a lot more people here. Would it be the same? No. Would the diversity of CH disappear? Depends on what kind of people can afford to live here. I definitely see room for more people, I’m excited to see progress, I see new transportation options, transit, some new offices buildings, some new condos.

      It going to be the same? No. Is it going to be worse? We don’t know.

    • but, christine h., we, as a society, need to learn how to put 10 pounds on a 20 pound bag. the way of living that was spoon-fed to a generation who grew up in the 60s and 70s, that everyone deserves a quarter acre plot with a custom built rambler, is unsustainable. i don’t think you are suggesting that we stop building on capitol hill and push more sprawl, which is pulling down more trees than anything you might see on john.

      i also think it’s funny that you complain how new construction comes right up to the sidewalk. when was the last time you walked west, on the south side of denny, west of olive? those apartment buildings, built in, what, the 30s? 40s? the sidewalk could almost be mistaken as a part of those buildings; they are so close to the sidewalk. so it’s not just a factor of new construction or gentrification; but one of a need to take best advantage of a piece of property.

  5. The street parking whining (not from you, just channeling that) is so exhausting. You have no right to easily and freely store your car on street. I just wish it was all paid parking, no permits from i5 to 12th. At least things would be fair then given how many people pay large sums to store their cars on private property where they belong.

    • on the contrary, by virtue of buying a permit from the City, residents DO have a right to easily and freely park their car on the street. You don’t like it, live in a different neighborhood without a RPZ.

      • You don’t like gentrification… live in a different neighborhood?

        I don’t have a permit, but is there any requirements to obtain one? For example, you don’t own already a garage (even if you own more than one car); distance to work; any disabilities… etc?

        I don’t think cars should be parked on the streets. It is a waste of public space that could help congestion, public transit… It would be much more interesting to put all those cars underground and leave the surface for the people.

  6. Thanks for your post, Jason….it’s an interesting perspective on apodments, from a neighbor’s point of view. As expected, there are plusses and minuses. I wonder if you would have the same opinions if you had lived in your condo for several years prior to Alturra being built?

    You say that if apodments don’t work out as is, then the units can be expanded and consolidated, or remodeled into town homes, or even demolished. I doubt this will happen, but if it does it will be a ironic commentary that apodments weren’t such a good idea in the first place.

    I agree with Timmy, in that those of us who have been critical of apodments are not opposed to increasing density….it’s more because of the outrageous way the developers have exploited a loophole (with the City’s complicity) in order to avoid design review….which hopefully will now stop because of the recent court decision….and also that they provide no parking, which is not a problem for all the buildings, but certainly for those which are being built in areas where parking is already horrendous.

    • I used to live in an apartment like you describe. The building (built in the late 1800’s) had previously been 18 tiny units in a tenement-style arrangement, but was gutted in the 1980’s and converted into three 2-bedroom condos. It’s not outside the range of possibility that the same thing could happen with the apodment buildings a few decades down the road.

      • That’s an idea but it’s based upon the supposition that these aPodments are constructed well-enough to last that long. An awful lot of these buildings have gone up so quickly that I would personally have my doubts in that regard.

      • Good point. I expect they will dissolve into a pile of melted epoxy and sawdust within a decade or two. Well, not really but you get the point.

        Having watched the one go up across the street and seen the interiors afterwards, they are built with the cheapest of the cheapest. I’m really curious how they will withstand the wear and tear of the density and frequent move in/outs. Also how they will be maintained as they age. I manage my 12 unit building and now that its aged, maintenance is perpetual.

  7. I have no doubt whatsoever that initially, the various aPodment complexes can be successful. What happens when the inevitable apartment glut and possibly, an economic downturn strikes Seattle, though? What happens when landlords become desperate to fill the vacancies and no longer carefully check out the prospective tenants? Yeah, I know. It’ll never happen. I guess we’ll see, won’t we?

  8. Note the use of the term “affordable” throughout this piece. This is how insidiously cleaver the developer spin has been.

    There is nothing “affordable” about $50-70 per square foot apartments!

    The developers in this town have derailed the real problem with these shit holes to be about fuddy-duddy NIMBY’s against density and poor twenty something’s. Or about the small size of the units. Or parking. It’s bullshit.

    This all about greedy developers skipping crucial design reviews, getting tax breaks, and cramming as many units on tiny footprints and charging moreover square foot than conventional units. It’s a scam.

    • Right on the money, you are. I spoke just this past week with someone who works for the Building Department in a different city/county in Washington state and they couldn’t believe that the developers were being allowed to get away with what they are doing and moreover, that the Seattle City Planning Department is allowing them to get away with it without taking immediate action to close this loophole. Follow the money and you will discover the rat hole.

    • Amen! Thank you for pointing out the red herrings and the straw men. This issue has NEVER been about parking, density, unsavory tenants, or NIMBY. This is about developers price-gouging with their square footage rates, and the the rents of the surrounding normal-sized apartment market getting dragged up in the process. Thank you Apodments for introducing the $1200/month broom closet. Thank you so much.

    • Rent per square foot is a mostly meaningless number. No sane customer calculates this number. They look for units that are big enough for their needs, in the area they want, for an affordable price. If you’re on a budget and only need 200 square feet, you won’t pay double the price of an apodment for a traditional one-bedroom apartment just because the rent is lower per unit of floor area!

      • It may be initially pointless to the customer but when landlords base rent on average price per sqft and aPodments drive up the average – it impacts conventional apartments. Then all renters lose… This is the reality of what is happening today.

      • Apodments aren’t driving up anything. Rent is determined by supply and demand. Nothing less, nothing more. Even with the construction boom, people are moving into the city faster than new units are being finished. THAT is what is causing rents to rise. Every new person moving in has to outbid someone else who is trying for that same apartment.

      • Landlords have went on record as stating aPodment pricing are a contributor to the rising rents. Many landlords baseline rents on the market sqft, amenities and building vintage averages. You can deny it all you like but that is the harsh reality.

        I manage a few properties myself and have never had or heard of bidding wars for units. The demand has always been high during my showings but never have there been prospective renters trying to outbid others lol.

  9. “There’s a sense that rents can “never” go down in Seattle, but I’ve seen it firsthand in 2008–09 when Washington Mutual had collapsed and when tech companies put a hold on hiring.”

    And how long did that drop in the cost of renting last?

    In a closed system, building more housing can eventually bring rents down or stabilize them. Seattle is not a closed system.

  10. Hey all,

    Just wanted to leave a word of thanks for the good, constructive comments that this article generated. Even though not everyone agrees that aPodments can have a positive impact on the neighborhood, I was very impressed with the civility of the discussion.

    Jason Weill