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Where We Live: Living Room

Our homes and our future

So where do we live? Shoreline or Lake Forest Park- Seattle Metro area, right? No, I mean what do we live in. The buildings. Washington State had 2,885,677 housing units of all types as of the 2010 Census, Shoreline 21,330 units, and Lake Forest Park 5,168 units. In Shoreline there are single family houses (15,262), duplexes (394), triplexes (516), attached accessory units (508), detached accessory units, condominium townhomes, condos, and apartments (4,461 of all sorts 4 units or larger).

One interesting thing, though, is that all those units actually take up a lot more space than they used to.  According to Cyberparent.com “In 1950, America's average square footage for new residential building was 293 square feet per person. A study in Journal of Industrial Ecology shows that the average square footage in 2003 was 893 square feet per person, an increase of three times. In that same period of time, the average household shrunk to 2.6 persons.” That means, obviously, that we are using a lot more resources per capita than we used to.

As Cyberparent goes on-

“One of the best ways to reduce a house’s energy consumption is to decrease its size. Large homes consume more resources than small ones. They use more concrete, more wood, more carpet, more drywall, and more paint. They consume more land, generate more construction debris, cause more pollution, and use more energy during the building process.

Green builder Vickie Anderson quips about energy use, "Think of dozens of
construction workers driving their pick-ups to work for months while that large home is being built."

The size of a home has a greater impact on energy and resource use than any other factor, including the efficiency of the home's equipment, the R-factor of insulation, and the type of windows used. A small house built to only moderate energy performance standards uses substantially less energy for heating and cooling than a large house built to very high energy performance standards.

And more than anything else, a large home will always require more energy
and resources to heat, cool, clean, maintain, and operate than a small home.”

It’s not like we don’t know how to do better at it, but maybe we just don’t want to.

Susan Susanka,  author of The Not So Big House and its sequels, said “In many municipalities, homes under a certain size are prohibited, often out of fear that small homes will lower tax values and even attract "undesirable residents."” Shoreline did it once. We had a Cottage development ordinance and some were built, but oh, what an uproar! Almost immediately the Council shut it down with a moratorium on new permits.

According to a Seattle Times article of March 24, 2005, Terry Barham, a Shoreline homeowner, said "I am a Realtor and I've been showing houses for 16 years… Right or wrong, people don't want to live next to cottages — and that leads to a loss in property value." Then they note “Other neighbors fear that the selling of several new houses on the block will result in higher appraisals for their homes.”

This has all the hallmarks of irrational fear. They will reduce home values OR they will result in higher appraisals, not both, if they do either at all. Look at the standing housing stock in Seattle, Shoreline, or anywhere else from 50 or 60 years ago and you’ll find a lot of small houses. You’ll also find they’ve appreciated (or depreciated) in value right along with the others around them. Some have charged that developers use substandard materials and practices to build cottages, but clearly the developers don’t think so. My brother-in-law and his wife lived in one of the Dayton Ave cottages. They enjoyed it and only moved because they had a baby. The Greenwood Avenue Cottages garnered awards and a lot of positive press.

In the Shoreline City Council’s meetings of March 24, 2003 and September 27, 2004 they debated Ordinance No. 362, the moratorium on cottage development and had a lot of public input. Feedback included ‘they should use conservative styles’, utter opposition, "the City's official urban slum,"
support for density and opposition to cottages, townhomes, or apartments (The same person said this in one comment! Really), general support for the ordinance but with amendments, ‘keep cottage housing in multifamily zones.’

As the Times article points out, “Shoreline Mayor Ron Hansen said he wouldn't be surprised if the council decides to allow cottage housing only in multifamily zones. Doing so, though, would defeat the purpose of cottage housing and essentially render the experiment a failure.” That, of course, is because the point of cottage housing is to densify single family residential zones without the imposition of apartments or other multifamily buildings. Now it’s gone. No more cottages here, it seems.

I really hadn’t started this article to go on and on about cottages, but their history here does seem to exemplify a strong theme: stubbornness and xenophobia. We need to do everything we can to , to fulfill and exceed Growth Management Act requirements for the city. It’s natural to resist change. Almost everyone does at some point, not for true, rational reasons, but just because it’s change- unfamiliar, unknown, more challenging, maybe less comfortable while you’re getting used to it, even when the results to be achieved are positive and necessary.

Building Shoreline/Lake Forest Park is just like that. There will always be blind resistance, even dressed up in reasonable-sounding rationales, but we need to anyways. Demolish , add new residences which , and concentrate most of our new development in certain areas, like .

We do ourselves a disservice refusing any kind of additional housing. Yes, we need apartments, and single family homes, and condo townhomes, and cottages and clusters and accessory units of both kinds. Really, what it comes down to is we need give ourselves as many options as we can. We need to say yes to ‘all of the above.'

Larry Lewis January 31, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Here's a neat bit from PBS on a related subject- truly small houses! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZZ2uaXGFtg&feature=share and here's an organization devoted to them: http://www.resourcesforlife.com/small-house-society
Bob MacDonald February 01, 2012 at 04:46 PM
I was looking into this awhile back...it's a neat idea, but it would be a challenge to live in a place as small as these. Check this out: http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/
Larry Lewis February 09, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Here's a bit of supporting evidence found on Sightline: http://www.good.is/post/most-americans-want-a-walkable-neighborhood-not-a-big-house/?utm_source=Sightline+Newsletters&utm_campaign=33300fc1bf-SightlineDaily&utm_medium=email

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