New to Town
If you've just arrived, you're likely looking for a place to live. You might have heard some horror stories about the high rents in Seattle, and they are mostly true. Most landlords ask for first and last month's rent and a security deposit, but a new law has at least given tenants a break—many landlords must offer a payment plan for the last month's rent and security deposit. (Take comfort in the fact that, unlike New York City, there's no "broker fee" in Seattle.)
We visited six apartments in neighborhoods accessible by transit to see what was on offer. The apartments ranged from expensive to really expensive, and small to really small, though the quality of the units varied. We're sorry to be the bearer of bad news here, but if you want to feel better about Seattle's rental market, look at apartments in New York City or San Francisco for fun.
A "One Bedroom," $1,250, Norman Arms
It took hours of poring over Craigslist housing listings to find a one-bedroom apartment that could be a reasonable option—possibly affordable and passably clean-looking—for someone looking to live in the University District. I found an available spot in the Norman Arms, a four-story building five blocks from the northern tip of the University of Washington campus. A tall, smiling man in a bucket hat and baggy sweatshirt ushered me inside the building, which is built out of ornate cinder blocks and stained glass. It looked like a fortress that mated with a church. It fit in perfectly on the street of shabby apartment buildings and party-houses-to-be.
My guide was downright chipper as he walked me up the stairs to the third floor. He explained that the building was mostly home to students and one elderly woman who had lived there since 1988. The hallways of the apartment building smelled like a mix of curry and floor cleaner. He explained that the apartment I was looking at was undergoing some last-minute repairs and, as a result, would cost just $1,250, a whopping $50 less than what he originally advertised on Craigslist.
The apartment itself, despite including all utilities, was expensive for what it was. Like nearly every other place I'd ever toured in the U-District, this one had the same bruise-colored carpeting, wood laminate cabinets, and white stucco walls. And the roughly 500-square-foot unit, advertised as a one-bedroom, was more like a studio because the bedroom was sectioned off from the living space by a couple of sliding doors. My guide said that most tenants asked him to take out the doors entirely. We walked in awkward silence as he led me out of the apartment, whisked me through the downstairs coin-operated laundry room, and out a back door that led into the alley. We both knew that I wouldn't be moving into the building. Who in their right economical mind would?
As I walked down the alley of the Norman Arms building, I received a smack across the face from the universe. Just 50 feet down the alley, the sounds of a construction project rumbled. It was another cookie-cutter modern apartment building, likely with units to be rented for even more astronomical prices. The Norman Arms apartment suddenly didn't seem so bad. ANA SOFIA KNAUF
A 150-Square-Foot Room, $930, aPodment Building
Living small, aka consuming less to avoid feeding the Capitalist Machine, is a noble ideal—one that, in most cases, I would wholeheartedly support. But when it comes to living in an aPodment, I don't care if Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up converted you into a born-again minimalist who keeps only the things that supposedly "fill them with joy." You should absolutely not pay almost $1,000 to live in the adult version of your college dorm.
For the uninitiated, an aPodment is a brand of "microhousing" apartment that has dwellings as small as 150 square feet. The buildings, many of which resemble repurposed shipping containers, began popping up in Seattle in 2009. Fremont, a neighborhood just west of the University District, is home to the Positano aPodment building.
My first stop on the tour was the building's "lounge," a room lined with beige leather couches that was so sterile, it could've been in a dentist's office. As we walked down the hallway and up the stairs, the building manager told me that residents were sometimes inspired to decorate the lounge/waiting room for the holidays.
The actual apartment—er, aPodment—wasn't so bad. The front door was painted a vibrant green, perhaps an attempt at distracting visitors from the blandness of the unit itself. This apartment was a "deluxe" unit, which rented for $930 a month. For nearly $1,000 of my hard-earned dollars, I would get a room (optional twin-size bed provided), a doorless closet, a half-bathroom (hair that was in the toilet included?), a kitchenette (microwave, sink, and refrigerator), an extended countertop "desk," and a flower-box-size balcony overlooking the neighboring house and a sliver of the Seattle skyline. Down the hall was a full-size kitchen, which was shared with other residents on the floor.
"Do people actually live here for more than a year?" I asked. Yes, my guide told me emphatically before leading me to an upstairs apartment that was renting for $900 a month, tiny balcony not included.
These apartments were basically a half-upgrade of the dorm room I had in college—same price, sans meal plan. Rather than two loft beds, I would have a "fresh" twin bed. Rather than a shared bathroom, I would have a toilet and claustrophobically small shower, both pre-littered with mystery hairs.
When you, newcomer, are so desperate for an apartment that an aPodment starts looking like the way to go, just think back to your college dorm room, shudder, and then make the smarter college-kid decision: to live in a house with other people. ANA SOFIA KNAUF
South Lake Union
An "Urban One-Bedroom," $2,080, JUXT Apartments
Two young, blond "concierges" wearing Seahawks jerseys greeted me in the lobby of JUXT, a brand-new apartment building in South Lake Union twixt a spotless Pho Cyclo restaurant and a graffiti-intensive ruin that one of the attendants called "the pit."
One of the local sports enthusiasts would guide me through the property's "urban one-bedrooms" and amenities as soon as she finished up some paperwork. In the meantime, I could help myself to a complimentary coffee from a full-service dispenser that was connected to a tablet. My digital barista. When I tapped the macchiato icon, steam shot forth from the swan-neck faucet, and after a few seconds, my espresso was ready. I sat with my paper cup on the modern blue couches and grinned at the lime-green throw pillows, another nod to the home team's colors. Inspirational indie rock filled the waiting room. There were outlets everywhere. Everything was vacuumed, and nothing hurt.
Already 98 percent full, JUXT is the most successful building in SLU since its opening last May. Apartments range in size from studios to three-bedrooms. I saw three of its "urban one-bedrooms" in addition to the furnished model, and also toured the amenities, which include the "Sky Lounge," an eighth-floor outdoor patio with a giant TV and two grills where residents can also rent paddle boards and kayaks; the "Speakeasy," which is accessed through a false wall in the Sky Lounge and is complete with copper-top bar and era-appropriate booths; the "Game Room," equipped with 24/7 access to Big Buck Hunter and Pac-Man; the "Secondary Lobby," adorned with artifacts from the school building JUXT replaced; the "Fitness Center," with towel service; the "Fancy Mailroom," which is web-enabled in a complex way; and the "Laptop Lounge," which is overdetermined.
But okay, what is an "urban one-bedroom"? A studio apartment with a partitioned bedroom and a view of an inner courtyard or, with varying degrees of seriousness, Lake Union. The low-end, courtyard-window version starts at $2,080 (577 square feet) per month. The high-end versions top out at $2,165 and feature about 20 more square feet of space. Each apartment comes with new, futuristic washer/dryers, a beautiful dishwasher, a garbage disposal, and either light floors with dark counters or dark floors with light counters.
In the model apartment, a fedora hangs on the coat rack. Burgundies and deep blues dominate the bedroom. Fake leather-bound books rest on weak shelves. Legible jazz bleeds out of Alexa, a primitive digital servant that comes with each pad. America is great again in this glorified dormitory, and the innovations of male tech workers like those JUXT seems to be courting have made it so. RICH SMITH
A 500-Square-Foot Studio, $1,300, the Biltmore
Ahhhhh, the Biltmore Apartments—a red-brick, ivy-festooned charmer located on East Loretta Place, bursting with 1920s-era charm. A place for polyamorous artists and hip couples with a lot of plants. For good measure, toss in a few old-timers who haven't given up the cultural riches of urban life for the material comforts of the burbs. You could write your novel here, you little Woolf. And you should, if you can afford it, but you probably can't. Unless you can. In which case, no one wants to read your novel. What a shame.
If Max, the property manager, had asked me to tell him a secret, I would have. His cool and kind demeanor projected trustworthiness as he led me through the building.
Floral wallpaper and red carpeting warm the common areas. The labyrinthine hallways smell different every 50 feet or so. Cinnamon. Slightly sweeter cinnamon. Paint? Lacquer. Pumpkin. I kept waiting for a whiff of weed, but never got one. However, was the passenger elevator adorably finicky? Yes, yes it was.
Max showed me three studios on three different floors. The fifth floor's 500-square-foot studio goes for $1,300 plus utilities, while the third- and second-floor apartments go for $1,250 and feature 50 fewer square feet.
Each apartment more or less looks the same. A wood-floored living area built for a bed, a Goodwill recliner, a hand-me-down love seat, and a dusty coffee table. A tiny shelf covers the steam-heat radiator, just in case you want your candles to melt. There are a handful of little storage nooks and a big walk-in closet for your mound of clothes. The lil' kitchen features limited counter space and a spot by the window for a stool and an ashtray. In the building's basement, a laundry room with six sets of washer/dryers costs you $2.25 per device, per load, and comes equipped with the requisite soda machine.
Seven years ago, this apartment might have been $750 a month, and you'd have been groaning about the cost of rent then, but it would have been a fair price for a place in a medium-size city.
You could live your whole life within a four-block radius. Jump out an east-facing window and land at "gay Starbucks." Spy on the brunch line at Glo's from your kitchen. Go to a literary event at Fred Wildlife Refuge. Enjoy the patio mid-summer at Captain Black's. If you need to get off Capitol Hill for a night, the light rail is a few blocks away.
All of that is great, of course. And there's still something to be said for location, location, location, but it's getting less and less convincing. RICH SMITH
A 210-Square-Foot Room, $930, in an Apartment House
My urban philosophy is pure. The idea is to turn over as much of your life to the public as possible. You want to eat? Go to a restaurant. You want to sit on a lawn and enjoy the sun? Visit a park. You want to move around? Get an ORCA card and use the buses and light rail. The only thing an apartment should provide is a place to sleep, fuck, and clean your body. For the spiritual urbanist, the apartment is the barest of places and must show the low regard one has for private life. What matters is being in public. We want the most beautiful park trees, the most comfortable cinema seats, the most handsome buses. Whatever is in the private realm should be starved of all charm and be purely functional. The cell is the ideal apartment for the urban spiritualist.
In this respect, the rooms in the apartment building on 13th Avenue South—which is in the heart of north Beacon Hill and walking distance to Link and a block from the very busy route 36 bus—are just perfect. You can reduce your private life to almost nothing here. It has no kitchen and hardly a bathroom. And its south-facing rooms have the only thing one should want from an apartment: a nice view. (In this case, it is a view of the Beacon Hill playground.) The 210-square-foot room I was shown on a winter day by a polite and soft-spoken manager even had nice floors and its pretty little window viewed not only the playground but the entire rise and fall of our Northwest sun. A number of excellent Filipino and Mexican restaurants are not far from here. The trains at Beacon Hill Station could transport you very quickly to downtown and Columbia City. In this room, you could belong to the city.
But there is only one problem: One would hope that living the public life was cheaper than $930, which is what the room I was shown costs, and that's not including the flat $50 for utilities. So to live the life of an urban monk or nun is not deeply rewarded by the real-estate market. CHARLES MUDEDE
A 661-Square-Foot Studio, $1,700, GreenHouse Apartments
Close to a light rail station, a cinema, a number of bars, and a PCC, the GreenHouse Apartments are not only in a perfect location, the building also has a simple, compact design. I would live here if I could afford to do so (the 661-square-foot one-bedroom apartment I was shown on a rainy day is going for $1,700). GreenHouse also offers a gym, a community center, and a dazzling roof terrace with lots of plants. My friendly guide, who had just started her first day on the job, mentioned that new residents each get a planter to plant what they want.
The rooftop has a view of downtown Columbia City, downtown Seattle in the distance, and a sliver of the silvery waters of Lake Washington. What you feel here on the rooftop is that "you be in da city!" You can hear the bells of the Link trains and survey like a prince or princess the old houses and new developments of this growing part of town.
I could easily live and die here if I made that kind of money. But I don't. The place is (barely) affordable for a single person who earns more than $60,000 a year, and that's not me. Nevertheless, this is something to consider. The location does offer a car-free life. According to AAA, when all costs of owning a car are averaged out, it claims $725 of your income each month. One can make sense of living in a one-bedroom apartment in a place that frees one from the massive and tireless expenses of owning a car. But imagine this other kind of city, one that has apartments that are not only affordable to those who make $35,000 a year, but also make life without a car a walk in the park. CHARLES MUDEDE