New rules havent stopped developers from building micro-apartments, but may have made them more expensive, The Urbanist reports.
New rules haven't stopped developers from building microapartments, but may have made them more expensive, The Urbanist reports. Kelly O

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Back in 2014, the Seattle City Council fumbled its way through yet another urbanists-vs-neighborhoods fight over whether to impose new restrictions on developers building microhousing. Pro-density types and some affordability advocates wanted to maintain developers' ability to build the small, cheap units in an increasingly expensive city. Neighbors, meanwhile, complained about parking, renters, the character of their neighborhoods—well, a lot of stuff.

The council landed on a compromise, avoiding an all-out moratorium, but adding new rules on microhousing construction. Microhousing supporters argued those new rules would result in more expensive apartments. Now, we can begin to see whether they were right.

From The Urbanist (emphasis mine):

Over a year after the new rules came into effect, there's now enough data to evaluate the impact of the changes. Unfortunately, the results will likely be disappointing to both sides.

For opponents of microhousing, the rules failed to [rein] in development: about the same number of projects entered the pipeline in 2015 as the year before the rule change. But just as affordability advocates warned, the new projects no longer include the lowest priced units.

To demonstrate that, the author, Ethan Phelps-Goodman, compared microhousing development data between 2010 and 2013 to 2015 permit numbers. In short, developers are still applying to build microhousing, Phelps-Goodman writes, but the rents in those projects may end up higher. (Again, emphasis mine.)

Applications for congregate residences, the densest and most affordable form of microhousing, dropped off from 9 in 2013 to just 2 in 2015, due to restrictions on where they can be built.

Plus, the 900+ small efficiency dwelling units applied for in 2015 must conform to the new requirements of an in-unit kitchen and a minimum of 220 square feet. It's too soon to know rental prices on these new projects. But an analysis of six microhousing projects built under the old rules showed that the smallest units, averaging 160 square feet, rented for $785 per month, while larger units, averaging 246 square feet, rented for $954 per month. Since the new rules require in-unit kitchens and a more extensive review process, it's reasonable to believe that the cheapest units produced under the new rules could rent for $300 per month more than the cheapest units produced under the old rules.

A developer who's worked on microhousing projects told Phelps-Goodman, “Our energy has been directed into producing housing that is significantly larger, more expensive and less plentiful than before—the exact opposite direction from where we need to be going."

Find the rest of the piece—and a map of new microhousing projects—right here.