City rules taking a toll on Seattle's microhousing


SEATTLE -- Initially praised as a housing solution and then painted as a problem, Seattle's microhousing units are becoming harder to come by.

When the tiny housing boom took off several years ago, Capitol Hill saw a lot of new micro units. But new numbers show that city rules promising to regulate the apartments may be ruling out options for those who need it most.

Ask Loretta Donnelly what she loves most about Capitol Hill and she'll tell you it's the people. Coming in second for Donnelly is her 160-square foot piece of paradise.

"It's me, my stuff, a microwave, a sink, a fridge and then a bigger kitchen if I need it. Simple," she said.

Donnelly shares the kitchen with eight others, which she trades for a cheaper monthly rental price.

"Uh the price! I mean it starts out at $700," she said.

Donnelly took advantage when the tiny units went up a few years ago. Now the rent is the only thing keeping her in the neighborhood.

"So renters loved it, they snatched them up and a lot of them were built until about 2014 when the legislation kicked in," said urban housing advocate Roger Valdez.

Valdez said that's when the city "stopped a solution" by requiring micro housing to increase in size and include kitchens and put-in parking.

Buildings are still going up in Seattle, but with a serious drop in affordable units. It's a change not lost on the City Council.

"There's a lot of review that we're undertaking this year as we're getting ready to consider legislation and make sure we don't lose sight of the fact that regulations can sometimes stifle the development you really want to see," said Councilman Rob Johnson.

A likely compromise could include loosening square footage rules and clarifying where exactly the tiny homes can be built.

Whatever happens, Donnelly hopes the city makes it easier to afford Capitol Hill for another 30 years.

"It's just our little hub of acceptance and love and nurturing of the whole community up here, and to me you can't find that in the suburbs," she said.

In addition to the most affordable housing units, Johnson said Seattle needs housing in that middle range, such as with townhomes and condos.

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