Seattle City Council member Tom Rasmussen is considering emergency legislation to stop construction of a type of small apartment that's extremely affordable to rent, quick to build, and wildly popular:
City council member Tom Rasmussen confirms this morning's caffeinated news and gossip that the council is considering legislation, which he may propose, that could place new restrictions (including, potentially, a moratorium) on so-called "aPODments," a brand name that's now widely used to describe buildings that contain numerous small housing units that surround a central living area and kitchen on each floor.
The units have been drawing opposition in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and Eastlake, where residents are incensed: because they require no land-use review (each floor technically constitutes just one unit, even if it houses several unrelated people, so they're legal under existing code); because they don't typically require on-site parking, and, most importantly; and because they increase density—specifically, density of people like college students and low-income workers, the kind of folks who are frequently charged with diminishing the "character" of Seattle's established neighborhoods.
But they're making the NIMBYs furious.
APodments may not be perfect for everyone, but they are priced within reach for folks who otherwise couldn't live in the city. What makes them even better is that they produce this affordable housing stock without any subsidies. That's crucial because the city will never be able to provide enough subsidized housing with levies, or through zoning incentives, for all the workers who need to live in the city. If we don't have market-generated, affordable rentals like these, we push workers and poor folks to the outskirts, making Seattle a wealthy, white enclave. Rasmussen probably isn't thinking about that. He's wealthy. Rasmussen makes over $110,000 a year. He ran the most over-financed campaign in city council history in 2011 (out-raising his opponent by more than $300,000). His spouse is a partner at a venture capital firm, and, according to King County property records, they own a house valued near $1 million. But aPodments are great for thousands of other people.
I'm sympathetic to concerns that some aPodments have been built without going through the normal design review process. And if that's the beef, go ahead and propose legislation requiring more community notice and design input. But that has always been a superficial complaint. When I wrote about this years ago, I wrote about NIMBY neighbors' classist fears of "itinerant" workers and "very sketchy people." Neighbors say the units are ugly, they're inhumanely small, and they don't fit the "character" of the expensive neighborhoods around them. (The people who actually live in the aPodmencts are delightful, normal people who are happy to have a small, affordable home in the city.) But let's take this argument on its face—that this is about more review of construction projects (which I fear is still a tool for NIMBYs to oppose these projects): design reviews don't require a moratorium. They don't require freezing this type of affordable housing from being built—but that's apparently exactly what Rasmussen is considering.