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July 14, 2009

Efficiency units coming to Capitol Hill and U District

  • The apartments will have private baths and ‘Ikea's best' furnishings, with shared kitchens and laundry.
    Journal Real Estate Editor

    A local developer is taking the concept of smaller is better to an extreme with two congregate-style “workforce” apartment projects that offer units of about 150 to 200 square feet.

    On Aug. 1, Seattle-based Calhoun Properties will open the 46-unit Videre at 216 23rd Ave. E. on Capitol Hill and the 30-unit Avenida at 4047 Eighth Ave. N.E. in the University District. Jim Potter, chairman of Kauri Investments of Seattle, is a partner in Videre.

    Each efficiency unit will have a private bath, sink, refrigerator, microwave, bed, table and chair — Potter said furnishings will be “Ikea's best” — with utilities and broadband Internet also included in the rent.

    There will be shared kitchens, on-site laundry, limited parking available for rent and custodial service for the common areas.

    Rents will range from $450 to $650 per month.

    The projects are much like the single-room-occupancy hotels once prevalent in downtown Seattle in that they will house “worker bees,” said Potter.

    “We're just going back to the past I guess in some ways,” he said. “They catered to the same people: These are the worker bees. They are baristas and everybody who needs (affordable) housing.”

    Potter said some of the renters will probably live outside Seattle, but “need a place to put their head down when they come into the city to earn income.” Others may use the units as their primary residence while saving for a home. Potter envisions that group doing its socializing in bars and restaurants downtown.

    “They're very busy, hard working, and really these people don't spend much time in the units,” he said.

    The Avenida is one building, and is true congregate living under the city's land use code, said Potter.

    The Videre consists of six townhouses with about eight efficiency units per townhouse. It's not congregate under the code, but is fashioned as such, said Potter, noting the city allows eight unrelated people to live in a townhouse.

    Eighteen of the Videre apartments will have lofts with living space below. Four will have yard space.

    Calhoun Properties was founded in 2004 by the father and son team of Gary and Dirk Mulhair. Calhoun already has 73 units of congregate-style workforce housing in Seattle, which it has either purchased and remodeled, or developed from the ground up since 2004.

    Paul Dixon, 59, lives in one of those properties at 4036 Eighth Ave., across from Avenida. He has rented his 160-square-foot apartment for a year and a half, paying $560 per month, including utilities.

    Dixon works as a security guard and is trying to build a business doing computer repair, which he trained for at community college.

    “Everybody's looking for work right now,” said Dixon. “Things are real slow right now.”

    Dixon said the complex is quiet and well maintained, and “perfect for me.”

    “I am basically here because the rent is cheap and it's centrally located” near transit, shopping and entertainment, he said.

    Seattle has a number of older boarding/rooming houses that people often associate with transients, said Dirk Mulhair. The Calhoun/Potter projects are different in that they are newer and meet city standards for congregate/boarding houses, he said.

    He envisions the units providing affordable housing for everyone from taxi drivers to senior citizens to students and professionals.

    “The reality is it's expensive out there,” he said.

    Mike Scott, a principal with Dupre + Scott, a Seattle apartment research firm, said the trend for Seattle apartments is smaller and smaller, but the Calhoun/Potter projects go a step further in that they are built in the SRO style and have limited amenities.

    Rents at Videre and Avenida will range from $3 to $3.25 per square foot, which is higher than the average for Seattle studios on a per-foot basis but less costly per month, Scott said.

    For Seattle studios built in this decade the average rent is $2.20 a foot, said Scott, “but that $2.20 works out to be over $1,100 a month.”

    “It's my bet that renters don't go around saying what's your price per square foot,” he said. “They're comparing rents and what they're getting for that.”

    Scott said projects like Videre and Avenida are rare in Seattle.

    Seattle City Councilwoman Sally Clark said if efficiency apartments are well designed, well managed and integrated into the community they could be “great assets” to those neighborhoods.

    “We frankly don't have a lot of units that are small and low-cost in the city that are produced regularly” by the private market, she said.

    “There are some developers like (Jim) Potter and others that are looking at innovative ways to make low-cost housing, (but) I don't see a lot of them,” Clark said.


    Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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