What’s it Like to Live in Microhousing?
When it comes to living in a small space, it’s all about perspective
By Sheila Cain, with Sheila Mickool, Jessica Yadegaran, and Madeline Lootens with additional reporting by Jennifer Meyers March 17, 2016
Roger valdez lives on the top floor of a multistory tower, with extensive views of the Olympics and the Seattle skyline, and located just blocks away from practically everything the city has to offer. One of the few things that sets this Capitol Hill resident’s space apart from the high-end condos surrounding it? It’s a mere 250-square-feet in size.
Valdez, 45, the director of Smart Growth Seattle, an advocacy group dedicated to updating land use codes and promoting single-family neighborhood growth, and a huge proponent for urban density and growth, has lived in his aPodment–a term created by local developer and property manager Calhoun Property Management, Inc.–since 2013.
The microhousing tower, Cortena, is just a short walk to Broadway’s lively scene and the neighborhood’s station for Sound Transit’s University Link light rail line, to open this month. Valdez says the location itself is worth the $1,384 he pays per month.
Valdez’s bedroom, living room and kitchen all share space on the main floor, with an overhead loft serving as office space. His unit also includes a small private bathroom, and he has access to a larger communal kitchen. To keep the tiny space from feeling cluttered, he’s limited himself to one plate, one bowl and one set of silverware. He owns a coffee maker, but rarely uses it.
“I should probably get rid of it since it just takes up counter space,” he says.
Hosting guests can be tricky, but is manageable—especially in the summer and early fall when the weather is warm. This is when Valdez’s attached 80-square-foot deck serves as a back porch of sorts, making the whole place feel a bit larger.
“Entertaining here would be no different than in any other apartment, except that the entertainment or eating and drinking may have to be outside the apartment in common spaces,” says Valdez. “And people would have to bring their own utensils.”
Instead, Valdez usually makes himself at home at coffee shops and other venues in his neighborhood. He spends much of the workday at WeWork, a shared office space in South Lake Union, and treats the nearby Joe Bar coffee shop “like my kitchen table or my den.”
However, living quarters like these haven’t come without controversy. When Valdez’s building was built, it was zoned as just two units, each with 16 rooms and a communal kitchen. As such, it wasn’t required to go through design and environmental review, which is a common platform used by neighbors to voice their concerns and address issues such as overcrowding and parking.
Neighbors were unhappy, and in 2014, the King County Superior Court ruled that each room should count as a stand-alone dwelling unit. Since then, while microhousing still continues, spaces are not as small and certainly not as cheap.
Still, when it comes to living small, Valdez says it’s all about perspective. “I don’t have a lot of space,” he says, “but I’m only [a building] away from the guy who pays $1,800.”
Life in a 70-square-foot aPodment
Scot Augustson takes downsizing to a whole new level. The 52-year-old Seattle playwright and shadow puppeteer makes his home in a 70-square-foot (plus bathroom) room in a renovated house in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.
His is one of seven units in the 1,720-square-oot house, which was one of Calhoun Properties’ first aPodment projects. In more recent years, the development company has built more than a dozen more modern micro-unit apartment towers on Capitol Hill and in the University District. Augustson’s monthly rent is $625.
A single bed takes up nearly half of Augustson’s floor space. Four plastic bins of shadow puppets take up a good deal more. A modest shelving unit on the wall holds a few cans of soup, a can of tuna fish, books and a few eating utensils. A dozen shirts hang on a rod, and pants and other clothes are folded and stacked in a corner. A well-used coffeemaker (priorities! this is Seattle after all…) sits atop a mini refrigerator. Augustson shares a washer and dryer and kitchen space with the other residents.
Augustson had planned to stay in the tiny unit for a few months, following his separation from his husband, but he’s now been there two years.
“It was a godsend at the time, since I only had a part-time job,” says Augustson, who also works at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum and the Seattle Art Museum when he’s not producing plays. He’s grown to appreciate the property’s central location and walkability, since he doesn’t own a car.
Augustson is philosophical about the growing popularity of tiny living units. “People working full time should be able to afford a little something more than this.”