Yobi offers an alternative kind of apartment living enriched by community, affordability and location. Architect David Neiman created 45 micro units designed around shared common spaces that provide opportunities for chance encounters, which supports social connectedness, site efficiency and sustainability. Unfortunately, since the completion of the project, the city of Seattle changed the requirements making congregate housing significantly more difficult or impossible to build.
The Yobi apartments met the prescribed code at the time of permitting. The project was submitted for permitting in November 2013 and its first phase was approved May 2014. Between 2009-2014 Seattle permitted over 3,600 units of congregate micro-housing, featuring units as small as 150sf with shared kitchens and other amenities. Throughout this period a political backlash against this form of small, dense development built momentum, eventually resulting in 2014 legislation that effectively banned congregate micro-housing in lowrise zones. The new legislation requires small-unit development in lowrise zones to be in the form of Small Efficiency Dwelling Units (SEDUs) with complete kitchens and minimum gross unit size of at least 220 sf. In addition to the change in the statutory requirements, SDCI also began to interpret Chapter 12 of the Seattle Building code in a more conservative fashion, requiring a 70sf rectangle of open space within each unit, instead of a 7’ diameter circle.
These changes impacted the Yobi project in the second phase when it went through permitting to complete the basement units. While the basement units were identical to the units approved for the stories above, they were not large enough to accommodate the 70sf rectangle of clear floor space now deemed necessary for permitting. Neiman appealed to the Construction Code Advisory board and was granted a one time exemption to complete the project as planned.
The building is designed with a high performance exterior envelope using blown-in-blanket and spray foam insulation. According to Neiman’s blog “the project has an energy use budget that is 60% of what is required under the current energy code.”
Yobi has an Energy Use Intensity of 38, but considering each unit is less than 280 sf the energy use per unit is only 10.8. Average energy use per unit of a typical apartment building is 32. Neiman notes the energy efficiency of Yobi’s individual units as using roughly a third of the energy of a typical apartment building. Yobi apartments adopted IBC building recommendations for minimum size apartments, utilizing the 7 foot circle for minimum room dimensions in several units.
These units were built in the style of a “ship’s cabin with snug dimensions and lots of built in amenities,” according to Neiman. Built with 45 units consisting of 147-288 sq/ft each, Yobi provides a dense urban living experience with a smaller footprint than other market options. Units include lofted beds, built-in cabinets for clothing and linen storage, kitchenettes with spaces for mini refrigerator, and some units include sliding glass doors with south-facing mini-decks behind the building.
Where each individual unit is micro, each floor has its own shared central kitchen and larger communal amenities on the ground floor where neighbors share a larger space. Seattle University signed a master lease on the building and it serves as a dormitory for students at the University.
David Neiman, of Neiman Taber Architects, set out to design a micro project that was innovative and different from the micro projects that came before. The project represents a unique approach to micro-housing that emphasizes small affordable units paired with generous common amenities arranged to foster social interaction among residents. Focusing on making common spaces that facilitate “chance encounters” between residents, Neiman strove to create a community not just another apartment building.
Plans started in 2012 for the project. Neiman had the daunting task of creating micro-housing that was livable and also met Built Green 4 star standards. The Marion Microhousing project, later renamed Yobi apartments, applied for permitting on November 12, 2013 and the permit was issued May 22, 2014.
There is motivation to build congregate housing on both sides– for the builder and the tenant. Congregate housing provides alternative living options for singles in Seattle. The average rent for a studio in the Capitol Hill neighborhood ranges from $1,400 to $1,800. Congregate housing, by contrast, typically rents for around $1,000/mo . Student’s living in Yobi also enjoy the benefits and amenities of campus dwelling including security personnel and a walkable commute to the campus.
This project would not be permitted by SDCI today. In 2014, the city council passed new restrictions that effectively banned congregate housing in low-rise zones. Additionally, in 2016 SDCI introduced new interpretations on the building code minimum room dimension requirements the make it impossible to building small efficient rooms with generous built-in furnishings like those in the Yobi.These policy changes are rationalized largely in paternalistic terms, for example as protections that promote public safety and human dignity, despite the lack of support for these positions from fire officials and the public health literature. Micro Housing is a potentially important tool in meeting our demand for urban housing that enables Seattle to attain its residential density goals, reduce suburban sprawl, and make the resources of the city more available to all people, but it remains a politically thorny issue.