Microhousing Moves Forward; Nobody "Completely Happy"
New regulations on microhousing get a hearing at City Hall; sponsor Mike O'Brien says nobody is "completely happy" with the proposal.
City council member Mike O'Brien said today that he wants to move legislation creating new regulations on microhousing—AKA "aPodments"—out of the council by the end of September.
The rules don't appear to have completely satisfied either side in a debate that pits single-family residents who don't want microhousing moving into their neighborhoods against density fans who say they provide affordable housing for people who otherwise might not be able to afford to live in the city.
But on balance, micro proponents probably gave up the most. (On the other hand, proponents would argue that they gave up more simply by accepting microhousing in their neighborhoods.) The new rules came out of legislation initially drafted by the Department of Housing and Development, which, O'Brien said today, "no one liked."
"My goal was to try to understand what were the base concerns with the legislation … recognizing that it was unlikely that we would be able to get some piece of legislation that would make everyone completely happy."
The new rules would:
• Create a new category of small apartments, "small efficiencies," that would each consist of a single dwelling unit. (Currently, each floor in a microhousing units is categorized as a single "dwelling unit" that can include eight "rooms," each of which is actually a small apartment). The small efficiency designation would do away with a loophole in city land use law that has allowed microhousing developers to build very small units—too small, opponents say.
The average size of a small efficiency in any building would have to be at least 220 square feet, and developers would be barred from gaming the system by counting any unit larger than 400 square feet in that average—pushing up the average, say, by building one giant unit in a building full of tiny micros (and allowing landlords of such buildings to collect more rent from more units.)
• Require one sink per unit, but allow that sink to be in the kitchen; an earlier proposal would have required two sinks per unit, one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom, which proponents said wasn't necessary for such small units. Nick Licata (a microhousing skeptic) said (sarcastically?) that since the city expects people who live in microhousing not to have cars, perhaps they should require even more bike parking.
• Apply design review to microhousing, with greater review requirements (and the opportunity for opponents to appeal) for larger (above 12,000 square feet total) developments. Currently, all microhousing can be built without going through design review; in the future, only the smallest buildings would be exempt from that process, which gives neighbors an opportunity to weigh in on what a building looks like.
• Require one car parking space, and one bike parking space, for every two units outside urban villages and urban centers. Nick Licata (a microhousing skeptic) said (sarcastically?) that since the city expects people who live in microhousing not to have cars, perhaps they should require even more bike parking. "The thing is, the units are so small that there's no room for your bike," Licata said.
O'Brien responded by pointing out that the original DPD proposal only required one bike space for every four units.
The number of parking spaces that are required for new developments is based on the zoning in an area, although urban centers and villages have no minimum requirements.
• Limit the number of on-street Residential Parking Zone permits a household can buy from the city to one per unit; currently, anyone who lives in the city can get up to four permits per household. O'Brien said that according to city surveys, one in three micro dwellers owns a car.
The legislation also changed the rules regarding "congregate housing"—basically, dorms and other group living buildings like assisted living facilities—to restrict it to nonprofits, colleges and universities, and "supportive serices"—except inside urban centers and urban villages.
The committee will formally take up the legislation on September 5 (today's meeting was just a discussion).