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Did micro-housing lose the war in Seattle?

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A neverending list of legislation and restrictions seems to be running micro-housing right out of town

Micro-housing. Tiny apartments. aPodments. Small Efficiency Dwelling Units.

Whatever label you want to put on tiny living spaces, you’re bound to find yourself in a heated discussion over their place in Seattle’s housing market sooner or later.

For some, micro-housing represents one of the best ways to provide affordable living in a city where such a thing is quickly becoming impossible. For others, its a way for developers to pack people into buildings like sardines and overcrowd neighborhoods with new residents who aren’t part of the community.

While the major tipping point for micro-housing in the city came in October 2014 when the Seattle City Council created restrictions on unit sizes and room requirements, there was actually a steady drip of legislations and rules before and after that continue to limit micro-housing’s ability to balance economy of size and price.

It’s a system that, a year after those restrictions went into place, didn’t seem to be making either side any happier.

Still, it’s hard to say that micro-housing opponents haven’t come out ahead and that’s what a recent Neiman Taber Architects blog post spells out. They think the battle for micro-housing has already been lost.

The straw that broke the camel’s back is a recent SDCI director’s rule that places new restrictions on Small Efficiency Dwelling Units (SEDU’s) to the extent that that they will no longer be meaningfully smaller than a typical studio apartment. It is a significant setback for micro-housing and the ability of private market development to help with housing affordability. But it is only the latest in a series of unforced errors that has taken Seattle from being a national leader on this issue to leaving the stage altogether.

Because of the latest round of rules changes, one upcoming micro-housing development will be redesigned, losing two units per floor (10 percent) while the average unit size rises (about 10 percent) and unit rent goes up accordingly.

It’s a “win” for people who don’t like micro-housing but a loss for the people who want to live in them (and didn’t seem to be complaining all that much).

NTA has some ideas on how to push back against legislation, starting with asking the city council to fix the frequent transit definition in this year’s omnibus code cleanup as well as re-legalizing congregate micro-housing. The tide certainly doesn’t seem to be working in their favor, however, despite the fact that the city says its in the midst of a push for more affordable housing.

The battle rages on, that is, if it is actually still going on.