Tuesday, January 10, 2017

More Housing and Less Parking



2016 was a busy year for us, with a slew of new projects breaking ground and an even larger number starting the design process. I did a quick look back at our work from this year to see what we have been up to.
All together we worked on 31 projects, creating new homes for 599 people. Five of the projects were townhouses, five were single family homes, and 21 were apartment buildings.
Increasingly we find that our clients are trending away from single family and townhouse projects towards apartment buildings. Inside of this shift toward apartments is another trend regarding parking, the extent of which I hadn’t fully appreciated until I did this look-back exercise: Our townhouse projects have a lot of parking, but our apartment projects have hardly any parking at all.

# of Projects
Type
Unit Count
Parking Count
Parking Ratio
21
Apartment
562
18
0.03
5
Townhouse
31
44
1.42

Our townhouse and apartment projects are getting built in fairly similar locations, namely close-in neighborhoods on small infill lots of 5000-10000sf. When this land is developed at townhouse density (1 unit per 1000sf of land) these projects can hold a parking ratio that is fairly typical for a car-based city. But at apartment densities (1 unit per 100-200sf of land) providing parking in any meaningful quantity becomes untenable. Put another way, if the code still required parking, very few of those apartment projects would have ever gotten built. Instead, they would likely have been townhouse developments, and in place of 560 apartments we would have built about 75 townhomes (and 100 parking spaces).

This trend in our work reflects a simple truth about the direction we are headed as a city: Over the coming years we are going to welcome a lot of new people, but we are not going to add a lot of parking spaces. Rather, we are going to build infrastructure for public transit. We are going to walk more and bike more. We will learn to make use of car sharing and delivery companies. We are going to price our street parking to use the resource more effectively, and we will eventually learn to stop thinking of the curb in front of our homes as our personal possession. 

This will not be an easy transition for many people. Seattle is going to become a very different city than the one I grew up in. Yes, we will lose some bits and places that we love. But we are also minting new treasures by the armload with many more yet to come. By allowing the city to grow and change and make room for new people, we preserve the city’s essence as the place where people come to seek opportunity. I for one am excited to help build our future, to make homes for the people moving here, and to extend to others some of the same opportunities that I have so richly enjoyed.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2016 Wrap Up


As we prepare for another busy year, a quick look back at some of our multi-family projects from 2016:

Courtyard Townhomes: We continued our work to develop and refine the courtyard townhouse development model that we started with Marion Green, marrying high density ownership housing with an innovative courtyard concept that hides the parking and creates community open space.

Olympic View Courtyard Townhouses - Completed Fall 2016


Alki Courtyard Townhouses - Permits almost ready, Construction to begin early 2017

Mark Center in Arlington, VA. A 145 unit master planned community using our courtyard townhouse archetype.

Adaptive Re-Use: Quite a bit of our work was focused on existing buildings - fitting more units inside existing structures, adding on new stories, and re-purposing older buildings that have otherwise reached the end of their economic life.

1722 Summit Avenue.
A stem-to stern renovation and top story addition to a 100 year old rooming house, creating 49 new units. The project is the first of several projects by Anew Development emphasizing the adaptive re-use and rehabilitation of old character structures, giving them new economic life while preserving existing building fabric.
423 Terry Avenue.
An un-reinforced masonry apartment building gets a total seismic retrofit while being converted into a 112 unit congregate residence, fixing a major safety hazard while preserving a significant character building.


Accessory Dwelling Units: Interest in mother-in-law apartments and backyard cottages has increased quite a bit recently as families look for opportunities to use their homes to satisfy a whole variety of needs and life transitions: Inter-generational housing for grandparents or adult children, rentals to provide extra income, downsizing in-place, or simply creating more housing for more people.



Innovative Infill: Because we focus on urban infill, much of our work is on sites with odd geometries and configurations, leading to unique solutions where each project derives its character from a response to the site's inherent limitations (and opportunities).

Hamilton Apartments - A 51 unit mixed use apartment building carefully fit into a sloping triangular site at the crossing of 23rd and Madison. The difficult site geometry generated a building with a thin floorplate, an internal light court, and small units oriented with their broad side along the window wall, creating unique apartments with generous natural light and views.

2227 Yale Avenue E
An infill apartment building carefully scaled down along the fromt residential street facade with
a back half of the project that scales up to take advantage of views toward Lake Union

2227 Yale Ave E - Axonometric View

Microhousing: We have pursued a unique approach to microhousing that emphasizes small affordable private rooms paired with generous common amenities arranged to foster social interaction among residents. 

Seattle Artworks @ 901 Hiawatha Pl S is our first micro-housing project with Neiman Taber acting as the principal developer.  Seattle Artworks is congregate micro-housing intended as a live-work artist community. The units are designed as lofts to provide enough room to accommodate a small work area in the unit. The main floor is dedicated mostly to a large shared commons and a commercial space that we will rent out to an arts-oriented non-profit

Seattle Artworks, typical unit cross section. Construction to begin February 2017.


8311 15th Ave NW - An 83 unit microhousing building stitching together affordable housing, a residential commons, incubator retail spaces, and a shared courtyard, all connected to each other and to the public way. 
8311 15th Ave NW - Ground floor spaces interconnected with each other and the sidewalk.




Monday, October 24, 2016

Crown Hill Community Microhousing



Inspirational images illustrating the community-oriented aspirations of the project.

On November 7th we will present preliminary concepts for our latest micro-housing project at 8311 15th Avenue NW in Crown Hill.  This project is part of our ongoing mission to rethink the possibilities for dense livable housing in our rapidly changing city - a pursuit that has led us to a unique approach to micro-housing that emphasizes small affordable housing paired with generous common amenities arranged to foster social interaction among residents.

An important part of this process is engaging with the communities where we build to let people know what we are planning. The feedback we get from stakeholders helps us to refine and improve our design and integrate it better into the broader community.  With this goal in mind, we met earlier this fall with our immediate neighbors for a conversation.  We also sat down with members of the Crown Hill Urban Village Committee for Smart Growth, who invited us to prepare this blog post to help with the outreach process.


LIVING TOGETHER
Our projects take an approach to micro-housing that differs what people may have seen in the past, so we want to take this opportunity to explain our design and the thinking that informs it.  Our mission is to build housing that pushes forward on the following fronts:
  • Livability:  Small units with thoughtful layouts, built-in amenities, storage, etc.
  • Community: Generous common spaces designed to augment the livability of the units, purposefully arranged to promote chance interaction among residents.
  • Affordability: Affordable rental housing is rapidly disappearing in Seattle. This model allows us to increase the supply of affordable housing and to reach a level of deep affordability that is not possible with conventional market rate housing.
  • Social Mission: We look for opportunities to partner with non-profit organizations that need housing to forward their mission and serve their clients.
  • Sustainability: Our projects will participate in green building certification programs to push energy performance far beyond code requirements.



A typical loft unit in the Yobi Apartments by Neiman Taber Architects.


LIVABILITY
Each of the private rooms in the project enjoy the following features:
  • Private bathroom.
  • Built-in wardrobe.
  • Kitchenette with sink, lighted mirror, medicine cabinet, microwave, refrigerator.
  • Built in storage areas in bathroom, living area, and overhead.
  • Double bed.
  • Over-sized windows provide generous natural light.
  • Lofts at all top level units.

Community kitchens on every floor provide opportunities for interaction often absent in apartment buildings.
COMMUNITY
At each floor level there is an informal “Pajama Commons” on each floor featuring:
  • Full Kitchen for casual private and group use by residents.
  • Dining area with ample daylighting.
  • Laundry
At the main floor there is a larger shared commons for the whole building featuring:
  • Full Kitchen
  • Dining Area
  • Living room/lounge
  • Streetside terrace w/ visual connection to public way
  • Shared courtyard with commercial tenant (coffee shop or cafe)
The main floor at 8311 15th NW has been designed create a high level of interaction between the retail spaces, the residential commons and the pedestrian environment.

AFFORDABILITY:
25% of the units will rent for $633/month.  These units are affordable for someone making 40 percent of area median income ($25,320 for a single person for 2016). The average rent for the rest of the units is projected at about $900/mo.  These units are affordable to someone making 55 percent AMI ($34,650 for a single person in 2016)

Affordability also means no surprises.  Rents are all-inclusive.  There are no extra charges for utilities (gas, power, lights, heat, water, sewer, waste pickup) and internet. This is a significant savings when comparing rents to a conventional apartment building.


SOCIAL MISSION
We are partnering with Ryther, a non-profit based in North Seattle, helping them launch a new service through their Aspiring Youth program to provide supported community housing for young adults on the autism spectrum.  One of the great strengths of our micro-housing model is that it is ideal for housing a cohort of individuals with common interests that benefit from living together. We expect that up to 10% of our residents will be from the Aspiring Youth program.


SUSTAINABILITY:
·         The project is targeting Built Green 4 star certification. A combination of overall energy efficiency and small unit configuration will create a building with about 1/3 the energy use of a conventional apartment building.



Proposed section through courtyard and retail.  The design proposes a light footprint, allowing for a courtyard at the center of the project with visibility through the retail to the street. Apartments over the courtyard are assured light and ventilation along with a smaller-scale, quiet outdoor area to get together.  Common kitchens on upper levels will all overlook the courtyard.

NEIGHBORHOOD
Big changes are coming to Crown Hill. The city recently re-classified 15th Ave NW as a pedestrian street, triggering new standards for pedestrian friendly development. Seattle's new comprehensive plan anticipates significant upzones and expansion of the Crown Hill Urban Village boundaries. As the first project along 15th Ave NW to be designed and built using this new framework, our project can play a constructive role in the neighborhood's growth, setting a positive tone for future projects. Some of the measures we have taken in this regard are listed and illustrated below.
  • Provide small scale retail opportunities with clear sightlines and an activated street presence. 
  • Dedicate some width along the commercial front to allow space for a wider sidewalk.
  • Break up the retail spaces to creates opportunities for small local businesses.
  • Provide good daylighting/transparency to promote safety.
  • Ensure privacy of adjacent residents by providing screening/fencing and locating active areas away from the shared property line.
    • Incorporate concepts from the Greening Crown Hill Master Plan such as green walls to mitigate blank walls and wide planting beds to buffer between traffic and pedestrians





    Thursday, September 15, 2016

    Upcoming Policy Changes to Backyard Cottages and Accessory Dwelling Units

    We are very excited about the proposed policy changes currently under review by the City Council that would modify current development standards making it easier to construct Backyard Cottages and Accessory Dwelling Units here in Seattle.   Even with the recent appeal from the Queen Anne Community Council, this new legislation is expected to pass by the end of the year.

    For those not familiar this housing typology, the following is a brief summary of most everything you need to know.


    DEFINITIONS

    An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is a self-contained living unit located within a single family house and is often referred to as mother-in-law suite or granny flat.  They are typically constructed within basements, attics and attached garages additions.  And along with DADUs, they have a separate entrance and their own living space, a small kitchen, a bed and bathroom.

    ADU in attic or basement
    ADU addition

    A Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit (DADU) is a separate living unit located on the same lot as a single family home and is often referred to as backyard cottage or carriage house.  They are typically separate, free-standing structures or constructed within or on top of a detached garage.

    DADU garage conversion and 2nd floor addition

    FYI - in most cities throughout the country, other than Seattle, an ADU is defined as a 2nd separate living unit located within, attached to, or detached from a single family house. Seattle however, has decided to make the distinction between an attached (ADU) and a detached (DADU) accessory dwelling unit - so if you're doing research, keep this in mind.


    HISTORY

    Accessory dwelling units can be traced back to the early twentieth century in cities throughout the United States, prior to the implementation of zoning regulations.  In the 1940’s and 1950’s it was common for underutilized spaces within homes to be converted into private living spaces to satisfy changing family needs and provide rental income.  Shortly thereafter a boom in urban sprawl and an emphasis on the nuclear family sparked concerns about perceived risks and impacts of ADU’s within neighborhoods, ultimately leading many jurisdictions to prohibit their construction.

    Today, in Seattle and many cities throughout the country, the lack of affordable housing has brought this typology back into the forefront.  In Seattle,  ADUs have been allowed in all single family zoned lots since 1994 and DADUs since 2010 but unfortunately, only about 2,500 units have been constructed.  Just 140 miles north in Vancouver, a city with less than half the number of single family homes, the total ADU + DADU count is more than tenfold.  How can this be, you ask?  Less restrictive regulations, city implemented incentives and a true desire to encourage growth.  It's a similar prescriptive path which Seattle will be enacting, pending approval in the upcoming months, which will hopefully lead to similar results.  


    WHY ADUs and DADUs ARE A GOOD THING

    For the City
    They increase affordable rental housing, utilize existing house stock without compromising the scale and character of neighborhoods, encourage better housing maintenance and neighborhood stability, reduce sprawl and environmental footprint, and are viable alternative to larger scale housing projects

    For the Homeowner
    They provide rental income, offer a private living unit for family members or friends, create aging in place opportunities and increase property values

    For the Renters
    They offers affordable rent and access to amenities in single family neighborhoods such as privacy, quieter environment and less traffic congestion


    PROPOSED POLICY CHANGES

    The following is the list of proposed policy changes, when implemented, should encourage the construction of more ADUs and DADUs throughout the city.

    1.  Allow an ADU and DADU on the same lot
    Current policy stipulates that a single-family lot can have an ADU or a DADU, but not both.  New legislation would allow single-family lots to have an ADU and a DADU.

    2.  Remove off-street parking requirements
    Current regulations require one additional off-street parking space for either an ADU or DADU unless the lot is located in an urban village.  New legislation eliminates the off-street parking requirement.

    3.  Modify the owner occupancy requirement
    Current regulations require that the property owner occupy either the main house or the ADU/DADU.  New legislation would terminate the requirement 12 months after the final inspection for the building permit.  Unfortunately this is only a partial step in the right direction.  The owner occupancy requirement is a significant hurdle for construction financing, as the bank cannot rent out the ADU/DADU in the event of a default.  This modification may not have much of an impact on production.

    4.  Reduce the minimum lot size for DADUs
    Current regulations stipulate that only lots 4,000 square feet and larger can have DADU’s.  New
    legislation would reduce the minimum lot size to 3,200 SF however, all other development standards that regulate the location and scale of DADU’s, such as minimum separation between structures and the maximum lot coverage limit, would remain in effect.

    5. Modify the maximum height limit for DADUs
    Current regulations determine the maximum height of a DADU based on the width of the lot, with overall height limits set too low to allow conventional roof geometry.  New legislation would simplify this standard and slightly increases the maximum height limit up to 2 feet depending on the lot width.

    6.  Modify the rear yard coverage limit for DADUs
    Current regulations limit coverage of a required rear yard to no more than 40 percent. New legislation would allow an additional 20 percent coverage only for one-story DADUs to provide flexibility for property owners who may wish to design a DADU without stairs for mobility or universal design reasons.

    7.  Modify maximum gross square footage limits
    Currently, ADUs are limited to 1,000 square feet and DADUs to 800 square feet. New legislation would maintain a 1,000 square feet limit for ADUs and increase the DADU limit to the same 1,000 square feet.  This legislation also removes garage and storage space from counting towards the maximum gross square footage for ADUs and DADUs.

    8.  Add flexibility for entry door locations to DADUs
    Current regulations prohibit entrances to DADUs on the facades facing the nearest side or rear lot lines unless that lot line abuts a public right-of-way.  New legislation would allow an entrance on any facade provided that the entrance is no closer than 10 feet to side or rear lot line, unless that lot line abuts a public right-of-way.

    9.  Allow certain roof features that add interior space
    Current regulations allow these features for principal units in single-family zones but are not allowed for DADUs.  New legislation would allow certain roof features that accommodate windows and add interior space, such as dormers, clerestories, and skylights
         
    THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ADUs AND DADUs

    If you’re thinking about building an ADU or DADU, there are several factors to consider.  As noted above, both share many advantages, but the following are additional issues to consider:

    Accessory Dwelling Unit
    • Can provide rental income
    • The space and building systems already exists - construction expense is greatly reduced
    • Does not impact scale or character of neighborhood and often goes unnoticed
    • Does not impact open space of property
    • Unit can often be directly connected to house if so desired (family members)
    • Can be a quick return investment
    • Since the unit is attached, sounds will likely be heard regardless of sound-proofing efforts
    • Privacy.  You’ll likely be sharing some exterior spaces and possibly even some interior
           Detached Accessory Dwelling Units      
    • Can provide rental income
    • Increased privacy and no shared walls and floors/ceiling
    • Clear boundaries can be delineated between units
    • Cost.  Building a DADU is significantly more costly per square foot than building a house
    • Takes away from yard and open space
    • Potential to impact neighbors open space and privacy

    LESSONS LEARNED

    Below are "before" and "after" floor plans of an ADU we recently completed.  As with most ADUs we’ve designed, the basement was finished space and only required minor interior renovations.  A small, compact kitchen was added along with a new closet for a stacked washer/dryer, and sound attenuation and fire separation was added to adjoining house walls and ceilings.  In addition, access to an electric sub-panel and thermostat was added for independent control of the building systems within the unit.  And the best part - no exterior work was required.  This ADU has 485 SF of rentable space, will be used as a long term rental, rents for $1,200 / month and cost $35,000 which included all project costs.


    DADUs are wonderful - who doesn't love a tiny house (?!) but ADUs are typically a bigger bang for the buck.  Based on the ADU project we've designed, returns on investments have ranged from 2 to 4 years.


    FINANCING

    If you’re unable to finance your project with cash savings, the following conditional loan types are worth exploring and may be viable options depending on your current financial situation.  Some lenders are beginning to catch on but in general, the industry remains unfamiliar with the added value ADUs and DADUs can bring to your property, thus making financing more arduous than necessary.

    Cash-out refinancing – Refinance your existing loan for more than you owe, taking out the difference in cash

     Home equity loan &  Home equity line of credit (HELOC) – Also referred to as a second mortgage, both types allow you to borrow money using your home’s equity as collateral

     Renovation financing / FHA 203(k) Combines a construction loan with your home mortgage


    REFERENCES

    If you’re interested in more information, check out the following:

    Additional information on permitting, requirements, guides and reports for both ADUs and DADUs

    A Portland based one stop internet source for all things ADU.  Some information may not be directly applicable to Seattle, but we’ve found them to be an invaluable reference nonetheless.


    SUMMARY

    Seattle's existing neighborhoods are one of the largest untapped resources available for increasing affordable housing stock.  By no means will this typology single handedly solve our housing shortage, but its an easy and beneficial step in the right direction that will have little or no impact on the scale and character of our neighborhoods.  You only need to look at the track records in Vancouver and Portland to see any concerns about changing the character of our neighborhoods have proven to be unfounded. In our pursuit of livability, affordability, community and access to housing for all, we look forward to welcoming more ADU and DADU projects into our community.


     The Cunningham's were cool with DADUs,
    you should be too!



    Thursday, August 18, 2016

    Seattle Microhousing "Fix" Eliminates 830 Affordable Homes Per Year.

    In my last post I illustrated how a succession of poor policy decisions over the last two years have suppressed the production of micro-housing, making it larger, more expensive and less plentiful. In this post I want to explore how many affordable housing units we are losing and how much more people are paying for their housing as a result.

    Lets begin with my assumptions: 2013 was the last full year where congregate micro-housing was relatively unrestricted and no major event disrupted production.  Since mid 2014, every few months some new regulation has come along to shake up the playing field.  For lack of a better option, I'm using 2013 as a baseline year.

    In 2013 we built out to roughly 576,000 sf of micro-housing. The chart below shows what this scale of development produces today compared to what it would produce if the city were to fix their recent policy mistakes. Built into these numbers is an assumption that a fixed policy scheme would produce about 50% SEDUs and 50% congregate housing. Since we have never enjoyed a year where our policies didn't tip the scales one way or the other, I'm making an educated guess.

    Year
    Congregate Units
    SF per Congregate Unit
    Congregate Total SF
    SEDUs
    SF per SEDU 
    SEDU
    Total SF
    Total SF All Types
    2013 Baseline
    1804
    300
    541200
    82
    425
    34850
    576050
    Today's Rules
    183
    315
    57605
    1,110
    467
    518445
    576050
    Fixed Policies
    960
    300
    288025
    678
    425
    288025
    576050

    Under today's rules, about 90% of production is in the form of SEDUs, The remaining 10% is congregate housing.  This skew towards SEDUs is because of a 2014 zoning change that limits congregate housing mostly to zones that are inappropriate for this type of housing.  SEDU projects rarely produce affordable housing because their market rents are too high and their MFTE rent levels are so low that SEDUs rarely participate. Current data suggests a 12% participation rate for SEDU projects, compared to a 50% participation rate for new development in general. Lastly, a new director's rule has made micro-housing units larger and more expensive than they would otherwise be. This in mind, a normal year of production under today's rules would look roughly like this:

    Today's Rules
    Congregate Units
    SEDU Units

    Cong
    Market Rate
    Units
    Cong MFTE Units
    SEDU
    Market Rate
    Units
    SEDU MFTE Units
    Total
    Unit Count
    160
    23
    1,077
    33
    1,293
    Rent
    $900
    $633
    $1,300
    $850

    Average
    $866
    $1,295
    $1,235

    For comparison, if we fixed the zoning criteria for congregate housing, we would expect a higher percentage of projects to swing back toward the smaller, more affordable congregate variety.  If we set the rent requirements for the MFTE program at a discount comparable to other housing types, we would expect SEDU participation to normalize at around 50%.  Congregate housing is already set at a reasonable rate for MFTE, so participation for this type would continue to be fairly robust as well. The net effect is a huge rise the number of affordable units created and sharp decrease in average rents.

    Fixed Policies
    Congregate Units
    SEDU Units

    Cong Market Rate Units
    Cong MFTE Units
    SEDU
    Units
    SEDU MFTE Units
    Total
    Unit Count
    840
    120
    593
    85
    1,638
    Rent
    $875
    $633
    $1,200
    $850

    Average
    $845
    $1,156
    $974

     Every year our current micro-housing policies remain in effect:
    • 1300 people pay an average of $253 more per month in rent.
    • 345 fewer units are built, pushing up prices by adding to the city's production shortfall and increasing economic displacement of low income renters within our existing housing stock.
    • 97 units of 40% AMI housing are not created (affordable to someone making $25k/yr).
    • 731 units of 55% AMI are not created (affordable to someone making $34k/yr).
    Multiplied over ten years, this represents the loss of 8,300 units of affordable housing, a 25% rent hike for 13,000 people, and 3,450 units of housing production lost.  We could fix this with a couple of administrative actions and a minor change to the zoning code.

    Do you agree that we should fix this?  If so, please send a note to the city council, let them know.




    *Prior to 2014, SEDUs had a design review threshold of 4 to 8 units depending on the zone, whereas congregate housing was not subject to design review.  This is the primary reason for the strong skew in the 2013 data towards congregate housing development.