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My proposal for new microhousing regulations

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As Chair of the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee (PLUS), I recently convened a working group of neighborhood residents—including people who live in or near microhousing buildings—and developers of microhousing to help dig into the micro-housing regulations that were proposed by the Department of Planning and Development earlier this spring. We convened this group because it was clear that neither side, not the neighborhood activists nor the developers, was happy with the proposed regulations. I wanted to hear the issues at the crux of each side’s concerns so I could help navigate a path forward to establish permanent regulations for this type of in-demand housing.

The working group met three times over the past two months, with each meeting lasting at least two hours. As the convener and facilitator, I tried to focus the conversation on specific issues each side were interested in, such as size requirements of the units, when design review is appropriate, parking regulations, and where future microhousing and congregate living buildings should be located. At the last meeting, I shared my proposal for regulating microhousing. It differs from the original DPD proposal in a number of ways, which are nicely framed up in this matrix compiled by City Council Central Staff. A stand-alone document outlining my proposal is available at this link and on the PLUS Committee agenda for today, August 13.

The fundamental change with my proposal would replace the existing model of micro-housing with “small efficiency apartments.” Each of these would be treated as an individual unit for purposes of counting towards permitting, growth targets, fire and life safety requirements, and the like. Along with the requirement that they be individual units, we also provide new flexibility for these studio units to be built smaller, to respond to the changing market demand for small, more affordable units. Below, I will summarize my proposal on some of the biggest issues we discussed in the working group.

How Big and Where Built?

The new requirements would allow small efficiency apartments to be built with an average size of 220 square feet within the building, with individual units as small as about 180 square feet allowed.

In addition, we know there is some share of the market that would like a very small unit and shared kitchen facilities, more like a dormitory than individual studio apartments. My proposal will allow these to continue to be built as congregate housing, but specifies that they can only be built in higher density zones in our urban villages and urban centers. These are the places that most likely have access to transit and amenities to support a higher density community. In multi-family low-rise zones, congregate residences will not be allowed. However, in these zones, small efficiency apartments may be built.

Design Review

My proposal would require most new small efficiency apartments and congregate housing to go through design review, depending on the size of the building, which is measured by gross floor area. For multifamily projects in which more than 50% of the units are small efficiency dwelling units and for congregate residences (all zones):

  • Streamlined Design Review (not appealable) for projects containing 5,000-11,999 square feet of gross floor area.
  • Administrative Design Review (appealable) applied to projects containing 12,000-19,999 square feet of gross floor area.
  • Full Design Review (appealable) applied to projects containing 20,000 square feet or greater of gross floor area.

For multifamily projects in which 50% or fewer of the units are small efficiency dwelling units, the standard Design Review threshold for the zone where the project is located would apply.

Parking Requirements
In Station Area Overlay Districts, Urban Centers, and commercial and multifamily zones within Urban Villages near frequent transit service, no minimum parking requirements would apply. In all other areas, one space will be required for every two small efficiency dwelling units in a building or for every four units in congregate housing buildings.


Next Steps

With the working group now complete, the ball is back in the City Council’s court. In today’s PLUS Committee, we are discussing the working group and my proposal for microhousing and congregate housing. We plan to bring it back to Committee for more discussion on Friday, September 5, our next PLUS Committee meeting. For more information on the PLUS Committee, check out our web page.


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Comment from Marjorie Lepley
Time August 21, 2014 at 1:03 pm

I applaud the goal of mitigating the effects of microhousing construction in Capitol Hill, Ballard, and other mixed residential neighborhoods throughout the city. However, if the proposed revisions to the DPD proposal were applied to the 2-block area north of the UW, I think you would see unintended negative consequences. It would jeopardize the critically needed supply of affordable housing for students.

Three points to consider:
1. The University’s dormitory and apartment complexes are operating at capacity.
2. The current rental rate in these buildings is $815–$1,450/student. (Actually only two of the buildings have rooms under $960. See
3. Microhousing projects that are recently completed or under construction in the 2-block area adjacent to the campus provide safe, energy-efficient, convenient housing — for approx. $775/student.

I have a personal interest in the issue. Over the past year, my husband and I have been exploring options for leasing our rental property in this area to a developer who would expand the number of affordable units. We selected one who proposed providing 80 rooms in the congregate residence model that is approved in the original DPD proposal. The rent would be comparable to three other new ‘congregate’ buildings in the block — approx. $775/student.

However, because this area is zoned L3, the proposed revisions to the DPD proposal would prohibit future housing in the congregate residence model in this block!

If that happened, we would instead lease the land to another developer who has proposed creating a smaller number of regular studio apartments for those students who can afford that option. That certainly wouldn’t be our first choice — we’d rather create housing opportunities for lower-income students.

I hope you will refine the revisions to CB118067 so that affordable micro-housing can continue to be built adjacent to the UW. If it isn’t possible to exempt this area from the proposed prohibition of congregate housing in areas that are currently zoned L3, perhaps this particular area (the 2 blocks north of UW) could have a special zoning designation, such as “L3-1” or could be rezoned to Midrise.

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