by Will Sweger
At an abandoned home in Othello, a giant white proposed land use sign marks a scene mirroring locations around Seattle. Monday, workers in reflective clothing from the Seattle Conservation Corps move through the lot, beating back blackberry bushes and tossing garbage in the bed of a truck.
The site, just south of The Station at Othello apartments and across the street from Othello Playground, will soon be home to the new Cubix Othello apartment complex. The developer, Parkstone Properties, plans to construct a building with 85 small units on the property.
According to public records, Parkstone purchased the property in March of 2015 for $410,000. The company plans to save money on construction costs by having the building’s units fabricated individually in Vancouver, BC before trucking them down and installing them on a framework built on the site. Neighbors can expect faster construction times as a result.
The units will be small, ranging from 260 square foot studios to one bedroom apartments just over 400 square feet. The 85-unit structure will be the first to host housing approaching micro sizes on such a scale in Othello.
The new building will be situated near the light rail station, with a Safeway, a Starbucks and several banks within walking distance. In response, the developers plan to cater to people who prefer to use public transit—the building won’t offer off-street parking. Current plans call for the management company to issue unlimited use Orca cards to renters covered by their rent.
David Hanson, a partner with NexGen Housing which is managing the site in conjunction with Parkstone, spoke with me about the project. Hanson said he’s heard concerns in the community about the pace of development, the displacement of traditional tenants, a general tenor of rising rents and the difficulty of finding family-suitable housing.
“We get that our product is not going to work for you if you’re a family of six,” he said. “It’s not going to be a solution for every small family or every couple. You’ve got to kind of buy into the lifestyle, you’ve got to be more into living efficiently, living green, not having the traditional 2.5 kids, dog and picket fence. The thought is for folks who do buy into that, it’s an opportunity to get low-cost, high-amenity living in an area that will increase foot traffic and help spur development near the light rail core.”
Talking to Hanson, it becomes clear the developers are bent on creating a planned environment. The cost of internet and recycling will be included in the rent for the new units, but Hanson says electric and water will still be separate in an attempt to encourage tenants to conserve resources as part of the building management’s green policy. The building plans call for solar panels and a grade of insulation beyond what is required by building codes.
“We are trying to fit into the housing ecosystem in a way that improves the neighborhood rather than tries to live off resources that the neighborhood has already provided,” Hanson said. “We’re doing what we can to try to make it inexpensive and green to heat and maintain. Then we’re also structuring the pricing of our product so that things we want tenants to do, like have access to mass transit are encouraged and things that we don’t want tenants to do, like waste energy or waste water are discouraged.”
At the moment, the developers plan to offer units from $670-$1,500 a month “subject to market conditions” according to Hanson. He forecasts there will be between 8 to 20 below-market rate units in the building with rents in the $500-600 range.
To fill the building, Hanson said, “We’re going to be targeting people in our advertising and our marketing who are interested in this lifestyle…living in a high alternative-transit, low carbon footprint, high amenity-driven kind of housing.”
Micro housing in Seattle faces a speckled past, but the interest in small units by many young people looking for an affordable place to live in the city means tiny apartments’ place in the housing environment will likely be around for the foreseeable future. The trend is also leading developers to highlight their efforts at providing common amenities to make up for the lack of individual space as in the case of the Cubix project in Othello.
The Southeast Design Review board approved the Cubix building in design review process on September 26. Once Parkstone obtains the master use permit, construction will start in the spring. The developer plans to complete the building in October of 2018.
Will Sweger is a freelance journalist living in South Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood
Cover image by Will Sweger