Saving bungalows and creating affordable housing in Seattle

A former librarian in Seattle is proposing an excellent addition to the mayor’s recent housing goals: rather than raze historical bungalows (and other single family houses) in favor of condos and low-density buildings, convert portions of existing homes into rental units. This is far from a revolutionary idea, but it is one that is often underutilized. People don’t always like the idea of sharing their space, their home, with other non-relatives, even if interaction is minimal.

Utilizing existing infrastructure not only saves money (the cost of converting a floor into its own self-contained unit is far less than the cost of demolition and construction), it preserves embedded energy (demolition is rarely a good choice from an environmental standpoint) and does not disrupt the architectural character of a neighborhood (new setback and height allowances are a major drawback to rezoning for multifamily housing, especially in already established neighborhoods). Further, because the cost of creating these small units is minimal rent, too, can be reduced. The librarian mentioned in this story charges 1200 per month for a one bedroom, 25 percent less than the area’s prevailing rent for similar units. 

I am still very much in favor of increased density and units targeted for extremely low-income and at-risk populations, such as formerly homeless, formerly incarcerated and formerly institutionalized individuals. Still, I think that taking advantage of existing space while preserving historical properties is an important companion strategy. 

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