Jeff Wood
Urban Reads

Are Cities Giving Up On Housing?

All the city news you can use.

By - Dec 3rd, 2017 12:26 pm

Microapartment building in Seattle, Washington. <a href="">Photo by Joe Mabel</a> [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Microapartment building in Seattle, Washington. Photo by Joe Mabel [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Every day at The Overhead Wire we sort through over 1,500 news items about cities and share the best ones with our email list. At the end of the week we take some of the most popular stories and share them with Urban Milwaukee readers. They are national links, sometimes entertaining and sometimes absurd, but hopefully useful.

New BRT in town: Last week Albuquerque New Mexico began operation of a new bus rapid transit line along it’s section of historic route 66. Opposition has been strong during construction from merchants but the line hails a new era in the United States for giving buses priority lanes along congested parts of the route that need it the most earning ITDP’s Gold Standard.  (Albuquerque Journal)

Giving up on housing: A piece by FT Green in Jacobin Magazine argues that a move towards micro units in cities means that most politicians have given up providing true housing solutions for residents. Many cities are beginning to loosen restrictions on minimum unit sizes and complaints abound for libertarian and liberal solutions to the problem. (Jacobin Magazine)

Razing a campus to build new: Microsoft has announced that it will be razing its Redmond campus in order to build a new one that connects to transportation and other offices more efficiently. 131 buildings will house 47,000 employees with parking underneath and a focus on walking and biking on the surface. (ZD Net)

Making scaffolding more visually appealing: A new company called Urban Umbrella is trying to create scaffolding shields that provide protection for pedestrians below while remaining visually appealing. Constructed of steel and translucent materials, these “umbrellas” provide good lighting and a better experience for the months that a sidewalk must be covered for building construction and repairs. (Yahoo Finance)

Moving away from Level of Service (LOS) measurements: This week state regulators released an overhaul of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that would move away from measuring LOS at intersections during the environmental review of construction projects. The new measure would use Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) instead and will support less automobile infrastructure and hopefully more infill development and bike/pedestrian infrastructure. (California Streetsblog)

Quote of the Week

There are very few things that are free in New York City and [crossing bridges] is one of them. I don’t want to see that change.

David I. Weprin, a Democratic assemblyman from Queens discussing his feelings on tolls and congestion pricing in New York City (New York Times)

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Categories: Urban Must Reads

3 thoughts on “Urban Reads: Are Cities Giving Up On Housing?”

  1. Paul M. says:

    The Jacobin piece on micro units is pretty disingenuous, failing to distinguish between old slums/SROs and attractive new micro apartments that work well for people who don’t want or need much space as long as it’s clean and pleasant and safe. Thousands of people in Milwaukee, myself included, happily reside in small studios in nice buildings, both old and new, and frankly my unit could be 50-75 sq ft smaller and it wouldn’t matter. The trade off is that my rent is low, I can afford to live alone and have the autonomy and extra disposable income for greater leisure. Tiny apartments are not necessarily “caves,” and to compare where I live with a shabby SRO or a slum from tenement NYC 150 years ago is ridiculous.

  2. Seattle Land Use Wonk says:

    I guess the micro success is in the eye of the beholder.

    In Seattle, where the modern trend started, we have had an evolving situation. Micros when first introduced skirted land use codes and building codes through a combination of developer obfuscation and building department chicanery. This resulted in thousands of units that averaged 150sft. Public outcry and negotiations between housing advocates and developers resulted in a new standard that identified zones where SRO styled “congregate” housing could be built, and set standards for “small efficiency dwelling units” that conform to the International Building Code and are about 220sft (still smaller than most micro standards found in other cities).

    The smaller unit size and far higher rents per foot (double or more regular sized apartments) have had the effect of causing other rents to rise as micros rented just below market rates for studio apartments. Property owners on Seattle’s Capitol Hill (ground zero for the first wave) saw micros renting for $900/month when they were renting 600sft apartments for the same and pushed their rents up, with higher rents in existing housing stock moving upward across the board. Additionally, with the higher net returns for micro buildings. developers are willing to pay more for the land driving up housing costs and property valuations (resulting in higher property taxes).

    Smaller is not always beautiful, and cities should carefully consider the negative effects as well as the benefits of lowering minimum unit sizes.

  3. Paul M. says:

    I think Seattle is arguably a different animal because the growth rate is so insane that lessons for other cities might be limited, especially for rust belt cities that have a good stock of less expensive smaller units to begin with. Given the number of small studios in older buildings in Milwaukee (with older fixtures, few luxuries, etc. but great locations and plenty of light), it’s hard to envision new micro units here driving up the price of most existing studio units, though they might drive up the price of 1 and 2br places or studios that were already so-called luxury units. At the end of the day, adding dense supply is a good thing, since today’s upscale units are frequently tomorrow’s affordable units anyhow. The other positive effect of smaller units for those of limited means is that it forces people to more realistically grapple with their true needs–i.e., they don’t need as much space as they think they do and perhaps they’ll also buy less junk and focus on what’s important beyond filling closets and cabinets and jamming furnishings into every corner. I suppose I look at it more holistically. Smaller spaces, I think, may have some moral benefits, but urban planners don’t usually want to go there.

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