Although micro-housing is not a nationwide phenomenon, it has become a niche option in cities with expensive housing. College students, young professionals, and beginning families, rather than living in the suburbs or cramped with roommates in cities, can live alone in centrally-located apartments that are slightly smaller than the average hotel room, and often have shared common spaces. Starting in 2009, Seattle became a leader in micro-housing development. But as this momentum grew in the Emerald City, NIMBY opposition arose, followed by restrictive regulations. Now these regulations have combined to effectively kill the concept, taking thousands of affordable units off the pricey Seattle market.
This was the conclusion reached by local architect David Neiman, who just wrote an extended piece for the Seattle-based Sightline Institute called “How Seattle Killed Micro Housing.” The article is a case study in how regulations can metastasize indirectly; it’s not that any one Seattle law states, point-blank, that micro-housing can’t exist. But the units have become so burdened by design reviews, parking mandates, micromanagement of layout, and location limits, that they make little economic sense for developers, and few are built. In this respect, they have become de facto “illegal…”
Neiman drew up one scenario in which a micro-housing project built beforehand would have provided 40 units, at an average of 175 square feet, and $900 monthly rents. Following all these regulations–which were mandated by a city administration that claims to care about affordable housing–that same project will provide only 21 units, at a 330 square-foot average, and $1400 monthly rents.