Friday, April 17, 2020

The Case for Re-legalizing Microhousing

It's been over five years since the City of Seattle passed legislation that effectively ended Seattle's run as an international leader in microhousing. I documented these changes in a series of articles in Sightline. How Seattle Killed Microhousing describes the effects of the legislation on housing production and affordability. How Seattle Killed Microhousing Again describes a failed initiative to get the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection to reconsider some administrative policies that were further inflating the size and cost of people's homes. In the intervening years, a removal of the restrictions on microhousing has been proposed by Mayor Murray's Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), and Mayor Durkan's Affordable Middle Income Housing Advisory Council.

The response has been a growing consensus among housing advocates and opinion leaders that changes need to be made. The City Council and the Mayors office have responded with the gentle chirping of crickets. In a political culture obsessed with loud, high-profile, symbolic gestures there never seems to be space on the agenda to consider some simple common sense fixes for microhousing.

Should it be on the agenda? In this talk, given at the 2019 Green Building Slam, I tell the story of The Roost - an artist live-work microhousing community we recently designed and developed in Seattle's Rainier Valley. I make the case for why re-legalizing microhousing should be a priority on our legislative agenda. How many more years and blue ribbon commissions need to pass before we actually do something about it?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Hiawatha Art Club Critique Circle

Across the street from The Roost a live-work artist housing project built by Artspace. Over the past year their folks and our folks have gotten to know one another. Last month one of our residents launched a monthly arts salon where artists from both buildings get together to show their work, have a few drinks, and enjoy each other's company. Its exactly the kind of messy vitality we hoped the Roost might bring to the neighborhood. Seeing it actually happen in real life is deeply rewarding.

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Roost - DJC Project of the Week

We got a nice surprise honor from the DJC today. The Roost was featured on today's from page as Project of the Week

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

2019 AIA Housing Forum Presentation - The Roost: Micro Housing, Community and Cultural Space

The summer we were honored to be given a showcase at the 2019 AIA Housing forum to present The Roost: Micro Housing, Community, and Cultural Space. We gave a 30 minute presentation about the project including some background behind the project, the challenges inherent in designing for small spaces, and the tensions inherent in playing the dual role of architect / developer.

Video of the presentation (and of the other presentations given at the forum) is available at the AEC Knowledge website

Housing Choices for Everyone

This summer The Master Builder's Association invited me in for an interview to talk about The Roost for a video series called Housing Choices for Everyone. It is aimed at educating the public about the changing landscape of urban housing and the new housing types that help serve the needs of ordinary people. Its a brilliant project and I'm really proud to have been asked to participate.

Ben Leiataua, the resident featured in the video, is one of the many artists who make their home at The Roost. Ben spent many years working as the marketing director for a casino before deciding to change direction and lean into the craft of singing and acting more fully. The Roost provides him with a modest home in the city from which to pursue his art in the company of other people who share his passions and interests. Ben's work is in Seattle, but before he moved to the Roost he was living in Auburn, where he had been commuting 60 miles a day in order to find affordable rent. Ben's story is fairly typical in that respect. Over 75% of our residents moved to The Roost from distant neighborhoods or exurbs around Seattle.

Later this fall we will publish a series of stories from The Roost, introducing some of our residents, and telling their "housing story". The goal is to put a human face on the answer to the question "who lives in micro-housing". Coming soon to a blog near you.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

We Did It! The Roost Artists Live-Work Lofts is Complete

In early December, we crossed an important threshold, leasing up our last remaining apartment as well as signing up an arts non-profit for our commercial space. That milestone represents the completion of a four year effort to design and develop The Roost, a first-of-its-kind artist's live work micro-housing development.

The Roost has 33 units with 34 residents, 7 dogs, 2 cats, and is home to about two dozen working artists. Our residents share kitchens, living, dining, co-working and laundry rooms. Nine of our residents live in units that are subsidized through Seattle's MFTE program, capping their rent at $702/mo. The market-rate units rent for an average of around $1200/mo.

Images from the 2018 Women's March, featuring artwork produced and distributed by Amplifier
The Roost is also the new home of Amplifier, a non-profit media lab that helps connect artists with social change movements to design, produce, and distribute art and media that helps those movements reach a wider audience. Bringing Amplifier to The Roost is the culmination of a years-long effort with Seattle's Office of Arts and Culture to identify a non-profit arts institution whose activities could provide interest and inspiration to our tenants. We hope this collaboration ican serve as a model for how new development can help support arts and cultural institutions in Seattle.

It has been a lot of work getting to this point, and we were at times uncertain if we would be able to pull it off. Having finally crossed the finish line, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on what we have accomplished and to share some of the lessons we learned along the way.

Four years ago (November 2014) we purchased a 4000 sf lot near the future Rainier Light Rail Station with the intent of developing our first micro-housing project. Our starting point was the community micro-housing model that we first conceived for projects like the Yobi. These early projects paired compact, affordable private sleeping rooms with generous common areas arranged to promote chance interaction and help build community among the residents. We aimed to push this form of housing beyond its utilitarian roots, improve the general design quality, and explore the inherent opportunities and challenges that are created when people live in community with one another. We described this effort as Microhousing 2.0.

Could we design housing that helped build friendships, social capital, and quality of life? Our first intuition was that we might be more successful if we could assemble a group of residents that shared some common interests and/or challenges. So we looked around the neighborhood and tried to imagine what a natural resident cohort might look like. With projects like Hiawatha Artspace next door, Pratt Art Institute nearby, and work spaces like Inscape and Rainier Oven within a short walk, we saw a natural opportunity to create artist's housing that could have a symbiotic relationship with these exiting arts institutions.

At the time, Artspace had 150 rooms available in Seattle with over 1000 artists on a waiting list. Projects like Artspace are an important but scare resource, accessible only to those patient and lucky enough to get a spot. We saw an opportunity to create a market-rate analogue to Artspace's non-profit development model; aimed at helping the same group of people but with a solution shaped by the toolkit that we have at hand. Artspace provides large generous units to its residents, charges its commercial tenants market rate, achieves affordability through federal tax subsidies and insures those subsidies benefit artists by screening applicants through a portfolio review. The Roost, by contrast, would achieve affordability through space efficiency and shared resources. We would use conventional private financing, charge market rate for our rooms, and use Seattle's MFTE program to achieve a deeper level of affordability. We would provide subsidized commercial space to attract an arts-oriented anchor tenant. Our doors would be open to anyone, so we would have to find ways to attract artists to the project via marketing and outreach.

Early Design Concepts
Our earliest designs featured three upper stories of small (160sf) studios with a main floor dedicated mostly to a large common work room. The idea was that residents could live upstairs and work together downstairs in the common studio. This vision was a natural extension of our own past experiences as architecture students working in large shared studios. We took the earliest sketches of this idea around to a range of schools and institutions (Pratt, UW, SEED, Equinox, Artspace) with experience providing artists work space. The feedback was not encouraging: Artists work in a variety of media, at all hours, often with specialized, expensive tools and supplies. They have unique personalities, a fierce devotion to their work, and a need to protect the fruit of their labors. Accordingly, almost every institution that provides artist work space provides it in the form of four walls with a door and a lock. Our vision of a gleaming storefront space full of artistic collaboration and creative foment needed a bit of re-thinking.

An early planning concept for the main floor featuring a large common work room.

We published our plans online and sent a survey around to get feedback directly from prospective tenants. Some respondents found the idea intriguing. Many artists were suspicious of our intentions, which was generally presumed to be some sort of artwashing scheme. One pearl of wisdom that we gleaned from the outreach: Respondents put a much higher priority on living in a building with other artists than on working in a building with other artists.

Based on the feedback, we shifted gears a little bit. We gave up on the common work room and redesigned the main floor to have a conventional commercial space that we would reserve for an arts-oriented tenant. Having lost the common work area, we put a little bit of that work space back into each unit. We turned the upper three stories into two levels, but made each unit double height to accommodate a small bed loft. Lifting the beds up off the main floor opened up a small space for a work area within each unit - a miniaturized live-work loft,

Walking the Walk
Throughout the process we have had to live with a degree of uncertainty about the outcome. While we have always had a high level of confidence that we could make the project work as a conventional housing development, right up until the last we didn't have a clear sense if we could actually deliver on the promise of creating an arts community. It's one thing to want artists to come live here, but whether or not they will take up the invitation is another matter entirely. We offered up our storefront at reduced rent to arts institutions, but two years of matchmaking during the design and construction phase didn't produce much beyond a series of first dates. As the project approached completion, we sat down with our property manager to discuss a lease-up strategy, and a contingency plan.

We completed construction and got permission to occupy the building in mid-August. Summer and early Fall is considered a great season for leasing apartments. A conventional lease-up strategy would immediately buy up a lot of advertising and focus on getting the units leased before the slow season arrived.  In our case, we felt our best chance to establish the project as an arts building would be to make sure that the first crop of tenants included as many artists as possible. So, rather than advertising broadly on general media sites like Craigslist and Zillow, we wanted to do our early outreach directly to artists.

We found ourselves at a junction where the project's financial best interests (quick lease-up) were in direct conflict with the projects stated goal (arts community), so we had to do a little soul searching paired with some spreadsheet work. We ultimately decided that we could afford to give artists a six-week head start and stick with our guerrilla marketing plan through October 1, at which point we would need to switch over to a conventional marketing strategy to get our units leased up and start paying on our bank loan.

We reached out to over 60 arts non-profits and 35 galleries to use their bulletin boards, reception counters, telephone poles, and online social networks to spread the word about the project. We blogged, handed out postcards, and tacked up posters outside of art supply stores and art schools. We got enormous help from a few key institutions like SEED Arts, Artists Trust, Equinox, and Artspace. Slowly at first, and then more steadily, artists began to find the place. By the time October 1 rolled around, ten of the units were rented up, with artists living in seven of them. It was a promising start, but we were out of time and needed to move on. Conventional advertising had to begin. How many more artists would show up? We were just going to have to find out.

In early Fall we finally caught a lucky break on leasing the commercial space. Amplifier was looking for a new headquarters, and the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture helped connect the dots. We began working on an agreement to get them into The Roost, and the match finally took. We got ourselves a dream tenant, and the final pieces began to fall into place.

In October and November, the building continued to lease up steadily at the rate of about 3 units per week. We wanted to know how many of the later lease-ups were artists. It's not easy to know. When people apply for an apartment, they declare their income and where they work for a living, but very few working artists make their primary living through their art, so you don't really know if someone is an artist until you get a chance to ask them directly. To answer the question more accurately, we are conducting a tenant survey. While the information is still coming in, so far (with a 75% response rate) about 85% of our respondents identify as artists.

What's Next?
Our development projects provide us a laboratory to push new ideas and experiment in a way that isn't always possible in our client driven projects. The Roost is the first of a series of micro-housing projects where we are both the architect and the developer. These projects provide an opportunity to test new ideas in the marketplace, and enhance our subject matter expertise for this kind of housing. Operating the buildings is a unique opportunity to learn more about the day-to-day lives of our tenants, and deepen our understanding of this specific housing type. It is a form of research that can help us improve our future projects, guide our clients more effectively, and speak with more authority in our public advocacy role.

1501 NW 59th St - Construction to Begin Spring 2019

8311 15th Ave NW - Shared Residential/Commercial Courtyard

8311 15th Ave NW - Under Construction. Completion Jan 2020.


Neiman Taber Architects Design Team: David Neiman, David Taber, Elizabeth Pisciotta, Patrick Taylor, Kyle Jenkins, Juan Vergara, Erin Feeney, Sharon Rubin.

General Contractor: STS Construction Services

Consultant Team: Malsam Tsang (Structural); Sitewise Design (Civil); Pacific Landscape Architecture (Landscape); Geotech Consultants (Geotech); Evergreen Certified (Built Green); Solarc Energy Group (Energy Modeling); Chadwick and Winters (Surveyor).

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Roost Gets Discussed at City Council Hearing

We got a nice complement from the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture last week when our work came up in the context of a city council meeting about creating and preserving cultural space. The project they are discussing is The Roost at 901 Hiawatha PL S, where we are offering the building commercial space to an arts non-profit at below-market rent. In doing so we hope to both make a contribution to strengthening the arts in our city, but also to secure an arts identity for our building and provide our tenants with goods and services that are enriching for the folks living upstairs. As they allude to in the discussion, we think we are very close to announcing a deal with a tenant for the space.  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Introducing The Roost - A New Affordable Urban Co-Living Community

Introducing The Roost - 901 Hiawatha Pl S (See here to apply)
The Roost is an innovative new micro housing development designed from the ground up as affordable market rate housing aimed at supporting and strengthening Seattle's arts community.  As part of our launch, we are doing extensive outreach to artists and arts organizations. We hope that you will assist us in spreading the word about this project via your own social network.

Affordable Urban Co-Living
The Roost is a unique project, unlike anything we have ever designed before. Most of the units are double height spaces with a small bed loft, freeing up room on the main level for work space or living room furnishings. They function more like one-bedroom apartments than micro-units. Nine of the units are set aside as income and rent restricted units, available to qualified applicants at rents significantly below market rate. The building also has a large commercial space on the first floor . We have reserved this space for an arts non-profit, furnishing the non-profit with a long-term home while also providing our tenants with services and/or cultural resources for artists and people in creative fields.

The rents listed below are averages. Individual unit prices may vary slightly based on unit size and location.  Wi-Fi service and utilities are included for all units (at no additional charge). MFTE units are available to individuals with annual incomes of less than $28,100.

Unit Type
Avg Unit Size
Avg Monthly Rent
Small Units
Small Units - MFTE
Large Units
Units with Outdoor Patios
Loft Units
Loft Units - MFTE

Unit Features:
Most of our units are double height lofts, with the bed space lifted up to provide a clear space at the main level for a work area or living room furnishings. The loft units feature thoughtful built-in amenities, unique custom finishes, and generous natural light and ventilation. Each unit has a private bathroom, a built-in wardrobe, and a kitchenette with a compact refrigerator, sink, and microwave. The cabinets were built out of fir plywood by a local cabinetmaker on Vashon Island. The flooring was custom-made using photographs of cedar fronds that we collected from Al Larkins Park in Madrona.

Typical loft space fits a queen sized bed

Custom fir plywood cabinets and cedar frond photo-print flooring

Common Amenities:
Just off the main building entry is a large common area containing a kitchen, dining table, laundry, mail room, TV lounge and a meeting space. The common room is a public counterpoint to the smaller, private units. It provides a community center for gatherings, casual meetups, movie nights, weekend dinners, and more.

Smaller common kitchens on both the 2nd and 3rd floors provide tenants with some additional food preparation areas convenient to their rooms. These features create more opportunities for chance encounters among neighbors as part of the day-to-day living experience.

A secure room for 26 bikes is located in the lower level and is accessed directly from the alley. Small rental storage areas are available as well. Building-wide Wi-Fi is provided free of charge for all tenants

The project is targeting Built Green Five Star certification, a comprehensive third-party verified green building program. Built Green requires performance above and beyond conventional building standards in a number of categories, including site development, water conservation, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and resource efficiency. Based on our modeling, we expect energy usage to be about 1/3 that of a conventional apartment building. A rooftop solar array will provide 85-90% of the domestic hot water for the building.

Support for the Arts
We are currently looking for an arts-oriented nonprofit organization to become our primary commercial tenant. We aim to provide a long-term home for an arts organization while also providing our tenants with services and/or cultural resources that would be useful to artists and people in creative fields.

To inquire about renting a unit at the Roost or to schedule a tour, contact Revel Property Management at:
To apply for a unit:

Monday, February 12, 2018

Hiawatha Artworks in Search for Commercial Tenant and Artists

Street View from S Charles St

Construction is rapidly progressing on our latest project at 901 Hiawatha Pl S, the latest evolution of our work in micro-housing model, aims to create a new live-work community for working artists. With a June 2018 completion date just around the corner, we are stepping up our outreach efforts to the artist community.

Commercial Storefront Space
One key component to our arts-based building is finding an arts-based tenant that can provide a facility, services, or cultural resources that would help secure an arts identity for the building and provide services useful to the working artists living in and around the building.  By offering a below market rate rent for the space we hope to attract a tenant that can fulfil this mission.

Commercial Space

The commercial storefront is a double-height, 1,236 SF space ideal for  exhibition space, open work area or light hazard maker-space.  Large windows along Hiawatha Place South and South Charles Street flood the space with natural light….. Overlooking the storefront is 600 SF of mezzanine suitable for additional workspace, private offices, conference rooms or storage.  The space could be leased to a single tenant or shared among multiple smaller organizations.

Commercial Space

Artist Live-Work Units
There are 33 units over 4 floors, containing 4 daylight basement units and 2 ground floor ADA units. 29 of the units are double-height spaces allowing a sleeping loft, and providing a small work-space below. Each unit contains over-sized windows, a kitchenette, small bathroom and built-in storage.

The daylight basement units are the smallest in the project at 160 SF.  The remaining 29 units sizes range from 241 SF including loft to 359 SF (including the loft). Because the project is enrolled in the Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) program, we will be able to offer nine of these units at a rate of $672/month. The remainder of the project will be market rate with monthly rents likely in the $900-$1100 range.

Typical Loft Unit

Building Amenities
Just off the main building entry is the Commons, a communal space containing a large kitchen, dining area, laundry, mailroom, a flat screen TV and rentable cabinets.   This space is a public counterpoint to the smaller, private units and is designed to create community for the artists for gatherings, causal meetups, movie nights and weekend dinners.

Smaller common kitchens on both the 2nd and 3rd floors provide tenants with some additional cook-space closer to their rooms and create more opportunity for chance encounters as part of day-to-day living. 

A secure room for 26 bikes is located in the daylight basement and is accessed directly off the alley. Small rental storage areas are available as well.

Building Location
The building is located less than 1 ½ miles from downtown Seattle and the International District and in close proximity to two new development hubs at Yesler Terrace and Promenade 23.  Frequent transit bus service is currently available less than a block away on Rainier Avenue. In 2023, Sound Transit Phase 2 will open a light rail station two blocks south of the project.

Nearby Cultural Resources
In addition to Art Space Hiawatha Lofts across the street, Pratt Fine Arts Center, Inscape Cultural Center and Rainier Oven Building are all within a mile walk.

Nearby Arts Organizations

If you know of an organization or working artist that may be interested in our project, please pass our blog along. For additional information or to schedule a tour of the building, please contact David Taber at

See below for project plans and sections

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Nazarene Townhomes City Council Hearing

The rezone application to allow development of six new townhouses on the church green of the West Seattle Church of the Nazarene (WSCN) will go before the City Council PLUZ committee on Monday, November 27th.  The project is an interesting test case for the city's new Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program. The general idea behind MHA is that a re-zone is supposed to confer value to the property owner, and in exchange the city asks the owner to contribute that value back to the city. In the case of WSCN's project, the proposed project includes a Property Use and Development agreement (PUDA) that will dedicate much of the land to a public open space, constraining the use of the site to such an extent that it will actually have less development potential after the re-zone than it does today.

The church pursued the re-zone in the first place to change the zoning from SF5000 to LR1 so that the flexible use standards of lowrise zoning could be employed to cluster the development toward the back of the lot, preserving the front half of the land as open space. We spent over four years working with their community to get support for the project, modify the Morgan Junction neighborhood plan, get a comprehensive plan change passed, get through design review, and pass through the SEPA review process. Now that they have arrived at the finish line, they are facing the prospect of having to pay a $200,000 MHA fee in order to get the re-zone that would enable their project to move forward.

The fee represents a significant chunk of the money that the project will raise to pay for repairs of the WSCN sanctuary building. The Morgan Junction Community Association has been loud and clear in their support for the project and their objection to the MHA fees as punitive and redundant.

The diagrams below show the development proposal - six units and 9,900sf of housing, compared to a development scenario under today's SF5000 zoning with three large homes, three backyard cottages and over 16,500sf of housing.

What will the City Council do when faced with a project that voluntarily provides community benefits that prevent it from using the development potential conferred by a re-zone? Does the property owner have to pay anyway even though they receive no value in return? Is MHA really about a fair exchange of value creation and value capture, or is it just a fine levied on all new development?  We'll find out next week.

WSCN Rezone Site Plan Showing the 6 new townhomes and 9900 sf of new development

Alternate Site Plan of what is legal to develop today without a re-zone. 16,400 sf of new development

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Hamilton Apartments Opens - 2305 E Madison St

Hamilton Apartments at 2305 E Madison St is finally open, renting out its units and finding tenants to fill its retail storefronts. When we first proposed the design solution for the project back in 2012, it was a radical departure from conventional development, providing housing units and retail spaces about half the typical size, with about 1/4 of the parking one would normally expect.  In the intervening five years between the first sketch and opening the front door, everyone's original hesitancy seems almost quaint.  Since that time, we have designed over 20 apartment buildings, many with units half the size of those at Hamilton and with only a handful of parking spaces between all of them.

The triangular site geometry creates a unique floor plan, with a footprint less than 40' wide wrapping around the perimeter, creating a V shaped building with an interior courtyard that captures natural light and views for the rear units.

We used an exterior material palette of Oko skin and Swiss Pearl siding to create a distinctive exterior cladding system. The commercial facade along Madison has staggers and offsets in the panel composition, while the residential face of the building along Denny Way is a quieter and more orderly composition. The prows of the building resolve as a sharp point to give expression to the triangular geometry of the site.

The narrow floorplate creates units that are wider than they are deep, allowing for over-sized windows and generous natural light into all of the homes. With the building situated at the top of the 23rd Avenue ridge, the roof deck at the top level enjoys expansive views of Lake Washington and Mount Rainier.

The project provides a mix of small studios, one bedroom and two bedroom apartments. The project is also participating in the MFTE program, reserving 20% if its units for rental at affordable prices. In this building it works out to about $400-$500 per month less than market price.

The owners are currently looking for a restaurant tenant for the large corner space, and are talking with a number of local businesses for the small incubator (300-450sf) retail spaces along Madison, including a hair salon, a tutoring classroom, and an exercise studio.