Thursday, August 16, 2018

Bring on the Clusterwohnungen


A few years ago, Seattle ran an interesting experiment on radically densifying low rise neighborhoods with microhousing–a typology of small, minimal units that provide somewhat affordable rents as an alternative to expensive apartments or shared housing. They came in two varieties – Small Efficiency Dwelling Units (SEDUs), micro-sized studios; and Congregate Housing, housing with smaller areas for bathing and sleeping with shared kitchens and amenity spaces. They were sort of a market-rate play on the existenzminimum –and they induced a lot of consternation– from homeowners who resented an influx of people who couldn’t afford million dollar homes, to those who believe small apartments are inhumane. In response, the city passed legislation that severely curtailed the production of congregate housing. This was intriguing to me, because Congregate Housing was a bit of a cousin to the Clusterwohnung.

The Clusterwohnung, German for cluster apartment, is a hybrid between a small apartment and a shared residence. It’s a housing typology that isn’t common, but has seen a bit of an uptick in recent years on some high quality affordable housing projects in Germany and Switzerland. They’re supersized dwelling units with communal kitchen, living room, dining spaces – that are paired with smaller private units or rooms with their own bathrooms, and in some instances kitchenettes. The idea is that the common spaces of the house, which are generally some of the least utilized, are shared between more people. In addition, the cost of food, utilities, and household chores can be divvied up to reduce the financial burdens and time.

City Council Landmarks Key Arena and Grants Greenwood Rezone


On Monday, the Seattle City Council approved a slate of landmarks in Uptown and rezoned a property in Greenwood to facilitate a mixed-use development proposal. The city council also hotly debated the introduction of a new ordinance to temporarily the Pike Place Market landmark district to cover the Showbox site on First Avenue, which could be redeveloped for apartments in a new highrise building.

Greenwood Rezone

Rendering of the development proposal. (City of Seattle / Johnston Architects)
Rendering of the development proposal. (City of Seattle / Johnston Architects)

In Greenwood, a developer sought a rezone for a split-zoned site primarily facing Greenwood Ave N (7009 Greenwood Ave N). The objective of the contract rezone was to allow development of a six-story mixed-use building on the eastern half of the site. The proposal includes 35 dwelling units and associated residential space and 6,000 square feet of ground floor commercial. A unique element of the ground floor will be an open courtyard in the interior where commercial spaces will open onto.

Mass Timber Social Housing on Public Land FTW

dowel laminated timber, foto by mike eliason

This past spring, the Washington State Legislature passed HB 2382 –a bill that allows public agencies to utilize surplus public land for affordable housing development. The land can be sold, swapped –or leased. This has the potential to be a really powerful bill –not just here in Seattle, but statewide.

This bill is a crucial component of the op-ed Cary Moon and I published in Crosscut last week. In it, building on my piece on the Mercer Mega Block, we laid out how and why utilizing the Mercer Mega Block for a massive social housing development and park –instead of selling for market development – should take priority. We also brought up SB 5450 –a state bill also passed last spring, directing jurisdictions to codify mass timber construction (prefabricated solid wood panels like cross laminated timber, dowel laminated timber, etc) in residential and commercial construction.

Everett Transit Delivers A Painful Restructuring Plan; It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way


Everett Transit is in the midst of a painful service restructuring planning process. Fresh off its long-range planning effort to develop a path to a more expansive, more frequent network, the transit agency is now proposing significant rollback of service, including deletion of routes and trimming service, while drastically increasing fares on riders. Everett Transit faces the unfortunate realities of growing service costs, meager tax revenue growth, stagnant ridership, and expensive capital outlays necessitating a hard internal look at how to keep people moving.

Everett Transit’s “Sustainable Growth Network” Proposal

Everett Transit wants to create a “sustainable growth network” that could eventually grow into a robust and well-used frequent transit network. To get there though, the plan would sap away up to 10% of service hours, cut down on the number of vehicles used, and strip away service on many corridors as a means to reduce costs, be more efficient, and set up service that theoretically could easily be built upon as the city and system grows, but that seems very far off. Last week, Everett Transit’s released its six-year transit development plan that affirms long-term service reductions while its countywide partner Community Transit will grow over the next six years, with a 36% service increase just through 2022.

Becoming a Citizen Activist: An Interview with Nick Licata

Nick Licata at a LIHI event.

Former Seattle city council member, Nick Licata is holding a salon on Design and Citizen Activism on August 8th with UW Professor Karen Cheng. Licata, who served five terms on the city council, has published a book called Becoming a Citizen Activist. I met up with him at Café Racer to discuss his views on activism and the debates over multi-family zoning, the Center City Connector, the Showbox, and more.

What prompted you to hold this upcoming salon on Citizen Activism and Design?

It wasn’t my idea. Arcade approached me. I’m the special editor for their fall edition focusing on how two communities are responding to the impact of Seattle’s tremendous growth and economic development. One community is Magnuson Park, which has a large number of folks who are living in affordable housing, and the other is the Central Area. Arcade was interested in whether Seattle has an ethos and, if so, how is that ethos manifested in the changes we see going on.

Kelly Rodriguez, who heads up Arcade, asked me and Karen Cheng to be the speakers for the salon to see how we would tie in activism and design, which I had never thought about before.

Can you tell more about your book, Becoming a Citizen Activist? What was its backstory?

While I was on my last term at the city council, I was very interested in reflecting on what it is that makes some people be more politically active than other people. Why was that I was always prone to want to be an activist?

I had been working on this book [on the rise and fall of the student power movement] for about five years. I hadn’t really thought about writing anything else, but then I thought, how about a handbook for activists? The publisher at Sasquatch said, ‘I like that title. Why don’t you write that? Why not use the work you got and throw in the work on the city council? Weave the different experiences together?’

Building Community in Southeast Seattle Tour this Saturday


Seattle is changing and growing increasingly unaffordable for working class people. One solution is to build more public and non-profit owner affordable housing to provide options for lower income residents at risk of being displaced. Seattle has been investing in affordable housing for many years and has a lot of wonderful projects built and in the works. On August 11th you are invited to join The Urbanist and others as we learn about some these great community based affordable housing projects along the Link light rail line in South Seattle.

We will use the light rail to travel the Rainier Valley learning about El Centro de la Raza’s Plaza Roberto Maestas. El Centro de la Raza began in 1972 with dedicated Latino activist seizing the old Beacon Hill School and demanding a space for their community in the city. Now after many years of work they have the school and the Plaza Roberto Maestas – a truly mixed use community next to the Beacon Hill Light rail station that includes affordable housing, retail, childcare, social program and public open space. Here we will learn about the history of both El Centro de la Raza and Plaza Roberto Maestas and what the future holds in store.

Mt. Baker Link Station – Image by Author

We will then travel via light rail one stop to explore Mt. Baker. Currently the cross roads of two of the Rainier Valleys busiest roads – Martin Luther King Way and Rainier Ave, it has a future as a dense, affordable, and transit oriented neighborhood just around the corner. Thousand of units of multifamily housing, many of which are being developed as various levels of affordability are planned as well as new open space and transportation improvements. We will learn about past and future affordable housing projects as well as some of the other changes that are in store for the station area.

Image courtesy of HomeSight

Lastly we will travel to Othello Station to learn about the proposed Othello Square project. Being developed by HomeSight and a wide variety of community partners, this catalytic community project will incorporate affordable rental and ownership housing, a multi cultural community center, low income medical clinic, childcare, economic development offices, affordable commercial space, and a charter high school. It’s first phase, a charter highschool is suppose to start construction this fall with the other phases following after. It will fulfill the promise of the light rail station by bringing life and services to the busy intersection of Othello and Martin Luther King Way

We will meet at Plaza Robert Maestas (adjacent to The Station coffee house – perfect for your pre-tour food and drink needs). This tour will travel by foot and Link Light Rail. Participants are responsible for their own rail fair and for travel back from our final destination. The tour will happen rain or shine and participants should be prepared to walk approximately 1 mile. If there is interest there is an option for lunch at one of the may great restaurants near Othello Station after the end of the tour.

Ticket are available here.

Top Urbanist Action: Ask County Council for Housing Not a Stadium Subsidy


It seemed like a done deal. The King County Council was going to fork over about $190M to pay for Safeco Field maintenance intended to keep its tenant, the Seattle Mariners, happy and ready to sign a lease extension.

Then something extraordinary happened. Hundreds of people pushing for more affordable housing (#TeamHousing) contacted their county councilmembers and dozens turned out at a hearing on Monday. The following day, County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles announced that she was withdrawing support for the bill she co-sponsored and presenting an amendment that redirected $184 million toward affordable housing.

This is why we have to keep the pressure on to keep housing a top priority, while making sure stadium upgrades remain in their rightful place as a low priority for county dollars. Our county councilmembers can be swayed.

What We’re Reading: Pay For Lanes, Modular Revolution, and Must-See Speech


Kids prevail: The Supreme Court of the United States refuses to hear Trump’s appeal against children suing the federal government over climate change.

Temporary shuttle: A temporary tourist shuttle to Seattle’s waterfront is running through October.

Pay for lanes: Bird, an electric scooter startup, wants to help pay for bike lanes in cities where they operate.

Planner for mayor: Toronto’s former chief planner is running for mayor.

Bikes save money: In an op-ed, Chris and Melissa Bruntlett argue why biking saves everyone money.

Modular revolution: Could modular construction be a game-changer in affordable housing?

Tunnel to UBC: The City of Vancouver wants to tunnel the SkyTrain extension from Arbutus to University of British Columbia.

Tailpipe polluter: Trump wants to cut fuel efficiency standards for cars.

Stopped project: A $40 million, seven-story apartment building in Downtown Tacoma has been halted.

Actually saving: Living in high cost areas may counterintuitively be future savings to renters.

Revamping B’more’s Penn: Amtrak wants ideas on redeveloping Baltimore’s Penn Station.

Must-see speech: Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda made a superb speech on biking and bike infrastructure.

Maybe both: Are Millennials urbanites or suburbanites?

Strike: Rent strikes have come to Los Angeles.