The rumors are flying: The Seattle City Council is preparing to consider legislation that would shut down, or at least hinder, more development of apodments,* the small affordable apartment dwellings that have been popping up in town. The arguments against apodments are weak and it is one area where Seattle is actually ahead of the game when it comes to innovative housing solutions.
And the Council has just finished it’s latest agonizing over “affordability” in discussions about zoning in the South Lake Union neighborhood. The market is producing apodments—people want them so developers are building them. Shutting these down now would be entirely inconsistent with what the Council says it wants and what its trying to tax development to do in South Lake Union. Apodments are affordable!
The first argument I’ve heard is that somehow developers are exploiting a “loophole in the code” to build apodments. That’s just nonsense. Developers are building these entirely within the existing code, a code that, in fact, has been around for a long time. Furthermore, neighbors that are griping about apodments generally speaking live in neighborhoods already zoned for low-rise multifamily housing. The truth is that places where apodments can be built would already allow regular apartment buildings. So what’s the big problem?
Opponents say that the apodments are too small. What doesn’t make any sense about that criticism is that the people making the fuss aren’t even going to live in the apodments. I’ve been in the apodments several times and even talked with people who live in apodments. They seem lucid and sane to me, not drugged or somehow coerced into living in the buildings. The truth is that the apodments pretty much have a zero vacancy rate; when one becomes vacant it gets rented out right away. People love being able to have the choice to live in an apodment.
Someone worried about apodment development on Capitol Hill said she was worried about her neighborhood changing; that’s an honest concern. She described how she knows all her neighbors and how they look out for each other, even checking in when someone’s lights haven’t been on a few days, or someone has been sick. But she worried that the apodments would be like a dorm, full of loud young people and a transient population.
I think this last worry, that apodments will change a delicate neighborhood ecosystem by introducing new, different people into it, is truly the biggest issue for apodment opponents. Change isn’t easy, especially when things are already pretty good. But the fact is that apodments are a great part of a housing continuum in Seattle. Being worried about more people isn’t unusual, but if we’re going to grow as a community we’ve got to get over it.
Finally, and most importantly, apodments are affordable. It’s baffling to me that the City Council could one day worry about taxing new development to create subsidized affordable housing—a paradoxical and self defeating move—but the next day consider putting a stop to housing that is produced for profit, with no subsidy and really is affordable.
In fact, apodments are addressing what some on the Council say they are most worried about: workforce housing. The normative standard for housing—how much we should pay for housing—affordability is 30 percent of monthly income. There isn’t a pod I’ve seen that rents for much more than $1000 per month, which is just about what a person making a little over 60 percent of Area Median Income makes.
The apodment concept uses the code wisely, using the smarts and innovation of developers to create housing that is less costly to build. The subsidy for apodments is created by innovation. The value created gets passed on in lower prices for rent and the public benefits by getting affordable density.
The City Council should resist any changes to what’s happening, but instead pass a resolution declaring May 2013 Micro Housing Month. There should be tours of apodments, a big fair highlighting other micro housing ideas, small-lot development, pre fabricated back yard cottages, anything that produces an innovative housing solution. Let the Council know, “we’re winning with apodments. Don’t go back now!”
* The term “apodments” is a brand name of one particular housing product. I’m using the term here broadly for all small apartments being built in the city.