Seattle considers cottage industry to ease housing, rent concerns

Jan 19, 2016, 8:36 PM | Updated: Jan 20, 2016, 2:09 pm

backyard cottage...

(Courtesy of Backyard Cottage Blog)

(Courtesy of Backyard Cottage Blog)

Rent in Seattle has become a common woe to locals striving to live in the city. Now the Seattle officials are considering a cottage industry that could remedy the issue.

“Backyard cottages are one of these conversations I’ve found in neighborhoods throughout the city,” said Seattle Council member Mike O’Brien. “When you talk about them, people seem quite receptive. It may be that we’ve matured as a city. It may be, relative to other types of development in our city, this seems less intrusive today.”

The idea for homeowners to build small cottages in their backyards to, in turn, rent to tenants is not new to Seattle. The city has carried out pilot programs in southeast Seattle over the past decade to gauge interest and see if any problems arose. The cottage experiment detailed how large a new structure could be; how close to a property line; and the size of a property which had to be at least 4,000 square feet with a certain amount of backyard space. The option has been considered by homeowners in the past for a variety of reasons.

O’Brien notes that it can be a source of income to help with the costs of owning property in the city.

Related: Mayor’s homeless solution is an example of ‘Freeattle’ at its worst

The city completed a survey of properties in Seattle and found that about 75,000 single-family lots would qualify to build such backyard cottages. There is no current proposal in front of the city council to create codes and zoning regulations for the backyard cottage ideas. But officials like O’Brien have been holding public meetings to engage communities.

There have been concerns, such as limited parking and the affect of a new structure on neighboring properties. And then some homeowners don’t like the idea of living next to renters.

“I haven’t heard a lot about people saying things like, ‘there shouldn’t be any more people in my neighborhood,” O’Brien said. “This gets into something that I’m, frankly, a little uncomfortable with or I’m disappointed with. Half the city rents and people who rent in our city are just as good of citizens as people who own. But sometimes there is that perception that folks are concerned about more renters coming into their neighborhood. I think that is something we can overcome.”

There has been interest from Seattle homeowners in the past, but O’Brien notes that he often hears “the city gets in the way.”

“I also hear from a lot of folks who don’t own housing but are renting in the city that say, ‘I would love to get out of my apartment into a backyard cottage,'” he said.

“What we’ve seen is this housing option in Seattle hasn’t taken off like it has in other jurisdictions, specifically Vancouver, BC, which has approximately 10,000 of these backyard cottages,” he said. “Whereas in the City of Seattle we’ve only seen a couple hundred in the last decade &#8212 in an environment where we are trying to find all sorts of new housing options for people to help alleviate the housing crisis we’re facing.”

Barriers for homeowners largely include city regulations. For example, if a person wants to build a backyard cottage to rent, they have to provide off-street parking &#8212 a difficult feat for many lots.

“So someone without any off-street parking who wanted to build a backyard cottage would have to provide two off-street parking spaces,” O’Brien said.

There is also a requirement that the homeowner reside in either the cottage or the house. That can be difficult for people who move out of town.

It’s those kinds of concerns and barriers that O’Brien and other city officials want to discuss, with the aim of hopefully producing some local legislation to make backyard cottages more prevalent in Seattle. O’Brien attended one public meeting Jan. 19, and plans to have another one in a couple weeks before crafting a compromise that will, hopefully, put more cottages in Seattle’s backyard.

Jillian Raftery contributed to this article

MyNorthwest News

Photo: Seattle detectives are looking for a vehicle involved in a deadly hit-and-run that happened ...

Julia Dallas

Seattle detectives looking for vehicle involved in deadly hit-and-run

Seattle detectives are looking for a vehicle involved in a deadly hit-and-run that happened in the Denny Triangle neighborhood Friday.

6 hours ago

Image:A portrait of Officer Vancouver Police Department officer Donald Sahota is displayed as he is...

Steve Coogan

Man convicted of murder in death of Vancouver police officer shot by deputy

A Yakima man was found guilty of murder for his role in the death of a Vancouver police officer who was shot by a sheriff's deputy in error.

8 hours ago

Image:A Sultan man has filed a lawsuit after two Snohomish County deputies shot him multiple times ...

Louie Tran, KIRO 7 News

Sultan man sues two Snohomish County deputies after they shot him, dog multiple times

Sultan man sues two Snohomish County deputies after they shot him, dog multiple times

8 hours ago

Image: Hundreds gather at Seattle's Wing Luke Museum to ring in the Lunar New Year in 2023....

Steve Coogan

Wing Luke Museum closes after employees walk out in protest of ‘Hate’ exhibit

About two dozen employees of Seattle's Wing Luke Museum staged a walkout Wednesday to protest an exhibit that was set to begin.

8 hours ago

Image: In this photo provided by Iditarod rookie musher Bridgett Watkins, a bull moose stands betwe...

Steve Coogan

A moose killed a man in Alaska. Could it happen in Washington?

A 70-year-old man who was attempting to take photos of two newborn moose calves was killed by their mother, authorities said.

10 hours ago

Image: Trooper Barry Marcus has been with the Washington State Patrol since 1992....

Steve Coogan

WSP trooper ‘saved untold lives, perhaps yours’ as he made 4,000th DUI arrest

Trooper Barry Marcus, a Spokane-based Washington State Patrol veteran, made the notable DUI arrest April 30, the agency reported Friday.

13 hours ago

Seattle considers cottage industry to ease housing, rent concerns