A Backlash Against Micro-Units Brews in Seattle

by Shilpi Paul

A Backlash Against Micro-Units Brews in Seattle: Figure 1
Three micro-studios. Image courtesy of R2L Architects. Click to enlarge.

As micro-units keep sprouting up in DC, it may be instructive to look and see how the tiny homes are being regarded in cities that have had them for a while.

Seattle, which has a population similar to the District’s, hopped on the micro-unit trend a few years ago. According to a recent article, 48 micro-housing projects have been approved by the city since 2006. Seattle’s micro-units are between 150 and 200 square feet, and are being marketed towards young people, students, retirees and others who value proximity to urban amenities over size.

However, with hundreds available on the rental market, some Seattlites are not too happy with the trend.

From AOL:

Some residents are complaining that micro-apartments crowd too many people together, aren’t compatible with some neighborhoods, don’t encourage people to put down roots, and circumvent a design review process meant to get public input.

The opponents are now pushing for a moratorium on building more of these units to give the city a chance to analyze the pros and cons and implement new regulations, if necessary. While the Seattle mayor isn’t eager to set a moratorium, the public and the council will be discussing the topic in next few weeks.

Readers, do you think DC needs to slow down and have a similar discussion before micro-units start appearing in our market?

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This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/a_backlash_against_micro-units_brews_in_seattle/7007


  1. Anonymous said at 7:22 am on Thursday May 2, 2013:
    Should DC slow down the process of adding micro-units to the city's housing stock? No, not at all. In fact, the city should push even harder to encourage the development of micro-unit apartments. While Seattle, San Francisco and other cities have had dozens of projects come to market, DC has yet to see a shovel in the ground. The concerns about mico-units mentioned in the article--overcrowding, neighborhood incompatibility, transiency--are overblown and misguided. Micro-units are simply a smaller variant of the standard apartment. Nothing more, nothing less. With micro-units, you have a development just like any other multi-family project. Currently, ample safeguards and regulations are already in place to manage new development in DC. Is another layer really necessary for small apartments? No. One of the principal hallmarks of cities is variability in the housing stock. Rarely does a particular neighborhood showcase only one type of housing. More often its a hodgepodge of different sizes and styles. That brings charm. The addition of micro-units is only one more variant to the housing mix. It a challenge to picture where in DC these units would not fit in. As for overcrowding, a 60-unit mico-unit development, while somewhat more dense than a typical apartment building, will actually house fewer residents than a 60-unit structure comprised of 1- and 2-bedroom apartments. It's the number of units built as opposed to the size of the unit that really matters. Furthermore, even if a couple thousand micro-units were constructed in DC, they would only represent a small percentage of the total housing stock. They'll blend right in and will not be distinguishable from any other multi-unit building. Like all apartments, both big and small, there is a certain degree of transiency. All the more so in DC. Why should it be any different with a micro-unit? Just because it's smaller than a standard-sized apartment? That argument is very leaky. Micro-units, of course, won't be for everyone, but usually people figure that out before the lease is signed. Some will value the price point and the nearness to transit; others may not. At any rate, it's a housing option to evaluate and consider, an option, that unfortunately, is not yet available in DC. And that needs to change.
  1. Mary said at 2:45 pm on Thursday May 2, 2013:
    As a resident of SW, which is set to get a bunch of these microunits, I very much share the transience concerns. Right now, there is a good mix of condo or coops to townhouses and a very long term community that stays for a while in both, especially in the older buildings along 4th street. I fully expect the newer, smaller units along the waterfront to attract a much younger, more transient crowd much less invested in the community and am regarding the prospect somewhat wearily. The new development will be great and I'm looking forward the boost in property values and having more retail and restaurants, but it's not unreasonable to expect and regret the fact that it will dilute the sense of community cohesion. And I think both the current and the 1960s redevelopment of SW points to the extent to which the previous poster is a bit too dismissive in saying: "One of the principal hallmarks of cities is variability in the housing stock. Rarely does a particular neighborhood showcase only one type of housing." Actually, since much urban development, especially in DC, has been done in large projects, rather than a small infill project here or there, one does find that a type of housing very much predominates in a neighborhood. So, detached single family homes may account for a large portion of DC's housing stock - but that doesn't mean very much to someone who lives on Capitol Hill or in Penn Quarter.
  1. youandmeandwalliemakethree.com said at 9:00 pm on Thursday May 2, 2013:
    Just a quick comment that my longest term rental was a 270 square foot studio apartment in DC. Not having roommates, and having a very low cost of living in contrast to much of the rest of the city were two strong reasons to keep me in the same place for the longer term. I imagine for a lot of young folks that see themselves staying in DC for a while, but don't have the money to front for a high end apartment or the patience to live with 5 others in a group house, a micro unit could provide a place to settle in. Its not just young people starting out either. I would love to see a poll of non-homeowners in the District to see where people would make trade offs when it comes to square footage, cost of living, commuting time, etc.
  1. Anonymous said at 6:34 pm on Monday May 6, 2013:
    These microunits are giving developers a chance to build slum apartments in nice parts of the city. I know living by the city is nice but live in 150 - 200 square foot apartment is nuts. No one chooses to live it. I'd hate to be an elderly person stuck living in one of those units because that's all I can afford. THINK AGAIN

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