Does the Solution Have to be Microhousing?

There’s been a lot of talk about microhousing. I’ve been tweeting and following the stories in Seattle, San Francisco and New York. As of this week, Seattle may propose a moratorium. The Seattle Times explains that “because the city only counts kitchens, not sleeping units, for the purposes of development regulations, the housing avoids design and environmental review and notice to neighbors that usually is required for big, multifamily projects.” The Capitol Hill Seattle blog has a lot of background information on the issue, along with the current happenings.

My personal opinion: I think it’s reasonable that microunit buildings (150-250 SF units, sharing a common kitchen on a floor) have to go through the same hurdles with the city as any other multifamily structure. But it has to be understood that more regulation makes housing more expensive. Seattle is convening a task force to look at how to create more affordable housing, but we all know what allows for affordable housing: unchecked sprawl built by under-paid laborers. Since that’s not a possibility in our region (or the most desirable option for anyone, really) we’ve got to get creative. But is microhousing the only solution?

We need to adapt homes that are here to fit multiple people…allow privacy, anonymity, and respite while providing community and affordability. More twenty-somethings are living with their parents longer, and this is reasonable, sane solution that should not be choked out by an unrealistic expectation of rugged individualism. And there’s the old fashion concept of a roommate, or living with other family members. According to the the census data, Seattle is #23 in population and #100 out of 100 in household size. We are continually isolating ourselves. Houses with plenty of room exist, but families are getting smaller. There’s some great data in this Seattle Bubble article, (including a chart with data on the top 100 cities) and some telling information about Seattle. Author Tim Ellis comments on how “Seattle’s anti-social tendencies even extend to our own families…”

Many zoning codes do not allow this for one of the same reasons people oppose microhousing…”those kinds” of people. They don’t want brothels in their neighborhood. They don’t want slumlords renting to 10 college students. They don’t want too many people parking on their streets. There are many reasons to oppose ideas like this. But we can’t have it all. We can’t pay everyone a living wage to build and manufacture building materials that aren’t toxic and cut down on pollution and congestion while making sure every Seattlelite with a single family home has enough parking for two guests on the street outside their house while keeping housing affordable. So I think we need to look at many creative solutions with an open mind.

The project below is a custom home, which is of course only a possibility for a few people, but the chart illustrates how a modest home with a guest apartment over the garage can allow for flexible living solutions over many years. I created the chart as part of D+A Studio’s [winning] entry for the AIA Seattle What Makes it Green? Top 10 Awards.

San Juan Channel Adaptable House