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Concentrated Housing and Boarding Houses

Housing is at a premium for many people and salaries are not compensating for it, especially in cities. The changing face of our cities will have to include lifestyle adjustment that is affordable- smaller living space, or sharing a common kitchen or bathroom. Tiny micro-apartments are becoming more common, as are boardinghouses.

The “boardinghouse boom” has created some initial controversy in Bellevue, WA, where several college students are renting rooms in a single-family home in an upscale neighborhood near Bellevue College:

The rambler Benson first showed her neighbor is an illustration of what went wrong in the neighborhood, city officials say.

When Rooney lived at 1613 144th S.E., it had three bedrooms. Rooney visited her old home in August when she returned to the area for a wedding. A construction worker was outside the home and asked her if she was from the city. When she said no, one of the renters invited her in. She said she was stunned. The house was unrecognizable. It had been chopped into eight small bedrooms filled with blankets and air mattresses, she said.

In an article titled Three ideas to solve Seattle’s affordable housing shortage, the Seattle Times voices concern that rent increases will force the working poor and young adults “out of the urban core.” Citing Sightline Institute Founder Alan Durning‘s e-book released last July, “Unlocking Home: Three Keys to Affordable Communities,” the Times emphasizes three solutions:

-Legalizing rooming houses. Just a century ago, boarding houses were a common sight in urban areas around the country. Durning argues a “coalition of self-interested” and “well-meaning” property owners successfully banned housing for the the lower-income by pushing for regulations on occupancy limits, requiring private bathrooms and parking spaces, etc. Fast forward to today: We’re seeing a revival.

-Decriminalizing roommates. Seattle currently restricts housing occupancy to eight unrelated roommates. Durning says research shows that’s an ineffective policy because bedrooms in existing buildings, such as large mansions in Capitol Hill, are a source of cheap rent for tenants and extra income for homeowners. He estimates about 27 percent of Seattle bedrooms are unoccupied on any given night.

-Increasing in-law apartments and backyard cottages. Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are legal in Seattle, but homeowners aren’t choosing to rent them out because the process is so arduous. The city requires homeowners to meet strenuous design standards and mandates additional parking, occupancy and size limits.

The boardinghouse boom and smaller living spaces are not unique to Seattle. Homeowners and homeowner couples commonly advertise on Craigslist, for example, a room rental in their home, to help with their mortgage payment. The idea of a “dwelling” and the idea of a “single-family dwelling” is changing. In addition, rooming homes and boarding houses have been associated with the stigma of slum lords and substandard living conditions- can this change?

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