Micro-Housing: An Emerging Trend for Seattle

There has been a lot in the news lately about micro-housing, including a story on the PBS national News Hour that aired December 17:
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/nation/july-dec13/micro_12-17.html .

Micro-housing is emerging in Seattle and across America as an innovative form of housing that responds to today’s demographic shifts toward a high percentage of single-person households and a strong demand for living in urban neighborhoods with lots of services and amenities.  In October of 2013, DPD proposed new regulations for micro-housing, and we are looking forward to working with the City Council to enact the new rules during the first quarter of this year.

DPD monitored the micro-housing trend in Seattle for about two years.  We found that Seattle is one of the cities seeing the most demand for and production of micro-housing, with over 2,500 sleeping rooms already built or in the permit pipeline.  Micro-housing in Seattle usually consists of small living spaces with about 100 to 300 square feet and a private bathroom, in groups of up to eight, with a shared common kitchen or lounge.  Along with micro-housing we found more congregate residences developments being proposed. Congregate residences are larger group living arrangements similar to dormitories or senior housing, and they are addressed in our new rules as well.  Almost all micro-housing permitted in Seattle is located in areas designated as an Urban Center or Urban Village in our Comprehensive Plan. Capitol Hill and the University District have the most micro-housing, but other urban neighborhoods like Ballard, the West Seattle Junction, and Eastlake have some proposed micro-housing.

DPD notes that micro-housing can help meet a number of the City’s goals and policies for a range of housing options, affordable housing, and compact development in Urban Centers and Urban Villages. Therefore, we generally support micro-housing as one of many viable housing types.  However, we recognize there are strong opinions about micro-housing, and some question how it can fit into neighborhoods. We observed that the evolution of micro-housing in Seattle over the last several years was not fully anticipated by existing land use regulations, which led to some complications. Based on these factors and input from the community, we’ve evaluated our rules, and are proposing changes to ensure clear and consistent rules are in place. Some key changes include:

  • A new definition for micro-housing so DPD can accurately identify, track, and apply regulations during the permitting process.
  • New Design Review thresholds to make sure micro-housing and congregate residence projects of an appropriate size get Design Review. (This can improve design, and gives neighbors more notice and better opportunity to comment on projects.)
  • New standards to make sure common kitchens and shared spaces are large enough to meet residents’ needs.
  • Increased requirements for secured bicycle parking, and increased vehicle parking requirements if the project is outside of an Urban Center or Urban Village.

We expect that the new rules for micro-housing could be adopted around March of 2014.  Last October, when we released recommendations for review, a group of concerned residents filed an appeal about the SEPA Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) on our proposed new rules with the City’s Hearing Examiner. The SEPA DNS stated that the proposed new rules would not have a significant adverse impact on the environment and this group disagreed. After the hearing on January 7, 2014, the Hearing Examiner will issue a decision whether or not to uphold our SEPA DNS within about 2 weeks. This process must be complete before we can begin discussing the new rules for micro-housing with City Council.  But as soon as it is completed, we will work with the Council to begin briefings.

To discuss micro-housing or DPD’s proposed regulations, visit our website, http://seattle.gov/dpd/codesrules/changestocode/micros/whatwhy/, or contact:

Geoffrey Wentland
(206) 684-3586