Montreal (Not So) Missing Middle Housing (2023)

  • If you are looking for a sunburn in February, and heatstroke the rest of the year, Scottsdale is your town.

    Why are you comparing two places with some of the worst land use and lowest quality of life for the buck (on my personal scale – I know some people like both places) in all of America to each other? Are you trolling or serious?

    1. Bellevue and Scottsdale are good comparisons demographically and location wise relative to the central city they are suburbs of. Both do not have a coveted temperate climate. I think being near a world famous golf course in a walkable neighborhood is desirable.

  • That is an $820,000 house, 15 miles from the center of town, and you are calling it affordable? What?

    There are plenty of houses in Seattle suburbs for less than that, including ones much closer. You can find dozens of houses in Shoreline, for example, let alone in the southern suburbs for less than that. Hell, even West Seattle is often cheaper than that (https://www.redfin.com/WA/Seattle/2507-SW-Portland-Ct-98106/home/472162). That is in the city itself, and much closer to downtown. This is in Seattle, a city that can’t sprawl as easily as Phoenix, simply because it is physically constrained.

    But that is all beside the point. 800 grand is a huge amount of money. To say this is “affordable” is absurd.

    1. The definition of “affordable” is in the eyes of the beholder. What’s affordable to one person, may not be affordable to another.

      This is part of what makes arguments about affordable housing so exasperating, since anytime someone uses the word “affordable”, I don’t know what the mean. Affordable to them? Affordable to someone with 100% AMI? 80? 30? 0%?

      In any case, there are plenty of people in the Seattle area to whom $800k is affordable, but $1.2M is not.

    2. https://realestate.usnews.com/real-estate/articles/what-is-affordable-housing

      There are legal definitions about what affordable housing means:

      “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines affordable housing as housing where the occupant is paying 30% or less of the gross income on total housing, including utilities.”

      How to create affordable housing is easier said than done.

      0% to 30% AMI housing is effectively supportive housing. 30% of zero gross income is still zero. If someone has 0% to 20% AMI there is something else going on, and the real question is whether that person has the ability to increase their AMI with appropriate help and treatment because a lifetime of subsidized housing, or worse supportive housing, is tremendously expensive, and ironically usually funded by property taxes that burden other renters and property owners.

      Seattle’s AMI is now $115,000. 30% equals $34,500/yr., or $2875/month for rent, so those folks even if living alone do not have a housing affordability issue. Neither do those earning 75% of AMI ($2156.25/mo. for rent) although I do think there is some grief in spending 30% of gross income on housing.

      30% of $115,000 equals $34,500/yr. AMI and 30% of that equals $10,350/yr. or $862.50/mo. for rent. Not much in Seattle available for $862.50/mo. except a room in a house although my son pays $1000/mo. for a two-bedroom apartment at the UW he shares (the unit is $2000/mo. although fairly old). Minimum wage in Seattle is close to $17/hr. and someone working 40 hours/week at $17/hour would earn around $35,000/year, so the assumption is someone earning less than minimum wage full time has other issues.

      The first issue is the very large number of people who live alone in Seattle. $862.50 is not much for a single person earning 30% of AMI to rent a place, but just two folks earning 30% AMI would have $1725.00/month for rent, and those are folks in the lowest non-supportive housing group (30% AMI).

      The cost of living alone becomes more apparent when you get to 50% of AMI. 50% of $115,000 equals $57,500/yr. 30% of that is $17,250/year for rent, or $1437.50/mo. which can afford a place in parts of Seattle for one since the unit can be quite small. But if there are two people sharing a unit and both make 50% AMI they would have $2875/mo. for rent and utilities, which would afford a very nice place in Seattle.

      So the real issue in this group (30% AMI and above) is living alone.

      The second group is families because they need more space, and often only one parent can work full time with the cost of daycare (at least until the kids get into school). If both parents worked and earned 50% AMI they would have $2875/mo. for rent which would afford either a SFH depending on size and neighborhood or a larger apartment.

      Obviously the most difficult issue is the single parent household with kids, and not surprisingly that is where we see most of the poverty. Shitty dads are probably the biggest issue in the U.S.

      One of the problems with the most affordable form of housing — renting a room in a SFH — requires communal housing with strangers, including sharing a kitchen/refrigerator and bathroom, and that is always risky, and sometimes those folks are not the best roommates. Plus the landlords are often slumlords in this kind of living, and these houses in the less desirable and in less safe parts of Seattle. If there were some way to screen tenants and have a process in which prospective tenants could meet one another and choose/control their roommates, I think this form of housing would be more appealing to some. One way to do this is require the property owner to live onsite.

      If people did not live alone (including single parent households) you really have a supportive housing issue, not an affordable housing issue, because even at 30% AMI two people sharing a unit can afford a unit. Two people earning 50% AMI (which is mandatory minimum wage) or one earning 75% and one 25% would have $2875/mo. for rent, which is not an affordable housing issue.

      Instead Seattle is approaching the issue based on an assumption nearly every person needing affordable housing must live alone, in part because what we are really talking about is supportive housing and those folks often have issues which makes roommates difficult, which means their own kitchen and bathroom and living room, when many families of four share these (but also control their roommates). So Seattle’s response is smaller and smaller units, which are of course more expensive per sf since each has its own kitchen, bathroom and living room, and no one to share utilities, and often are new to boot, making them the least affordable per sf.

      The final issue is how much to ask those not receiving public subsidies but who are below 100% AMI, or even at 50% AMI, to subsidize the housing for those below them who have to live alone, and who sometimes made some bad life decisions, or wont’ take steps to increase their AMI. There is no free lunch, unfortunately, especially in a state/county/city that raise most of their tax revenue by property taxes that get passed onto property owners and renters alike.

      Seattle has that choice this November. Library levies, King Co. Park Levies, transit levies, school levies, general property taxes, housing levies increase everyone’s housing costs, none more so marginally than those below 100% AMI.

      A subcommittee of the King Co. Council thinks they can solve this problem — without having to use public funds — by mandating that cities create a certain percentage of “affordable housing” as part of their GMPC housing allocations, including 0% to 30% AMI, 30% to 50% AMI, and so on all the way up to 120% of AMI (which seems excessive to me since someone with a 120% AMI would have over $3000/mo. to spend on rent even if living alone).

      Unfortunately, these councilmembers are not builders or developers so they don’t quite understand builders don’t build housing they will lose money on, and many cities would love to require 50% of their GMPC housing targets be 0% to 30% affordable housing because that would effectively cut their housing targets in half through 2044 because no one will apply to build it or build it.

      The unfortunate reality is we don’t have a housing availability issue, or even affordability issue, we have a supportive housing issue, and that requires two things: 1. public subsidies; and 2. a real effort by those receiving public subsidies to increase their AMI in order to contribute more toward their rents so there is more money to go around to others, which is why low barrier shelters and giving homeless hotel rooms without requiring treatment drives so many eastside cities crazy.

    3. “Seattle’s AMI is now $115,000. 30% equals $34,500/yr., or $2875/month for rent, so those folks even if living alone do not have a housing affordability issue.”

      And those who can’t afford the 40% rent increases to $1000, $1600, or $2000 in the past decade have been driven outside the city boundary, thus artificially increasing AMI. We need to look at both the situation in Seattle and the situation for people displaced from Seattle, because it’s one metropolitan area.

      I’m focused on is those making between 30% and 70% AMI, because they need a break too but are usually ignored, as if solving the bottom 30% will solve everybody’s problems. These people don’t have a problem holding a job: it’s just their jobs don’t pay enough to cover the inflated rents, which have risen far faster than wages. Some of them are working 2 or 3 jobs or 80 hours a week to keep themselves and their families housed.

      “The first issue is the very large number of people who live alone in Seattle.”

      It’s too much to expect everybody to have roommates in spite of changing demographics and the breakdown of family support structures. Those are larger issues than just people wanting to live alone as a luxury, and will take a longer time to resolve.

      In the 1950s one wage-earner could own a house and raise a family. In the 1970s Elizabeth Warren’s mother as a single mother could keep her house and raise a family on minimum wage. In the 80s I could still get a room in a 3 BR apartment on minimum wage (although it was an especially good deal). That’s what’s missing now: housing prices have risen far faster than wages. That’s the problem we need to address.

      Even if somebody wants a roommate, you can’t just find a good or compatible one like that. And if you pick a bad one they may pull a knife on you or not pay their obligations. So expecting everybody under 70% AMI to get a roommate right now is unrealistic.

      “One of the problems with the most affordable form of housing — renting a room in a SFH”

      And most SFHs weren’t designed for it. They were designed for a 2+2 family, 1 bathroom in the master bedroom and one other bathroom, hollow doors, car-dependent unwalkable design, useless front lawn that has to be mowed, etc.

      My relative is probably going to move in a group family home, and it’s one of the SFHs you praise. This one did a particularly good job: the residents live on the main floor, the owner’s family in the basement, it’s all retrofitted for so many people and their extra needs, and it even has some greenery and beauty. So that’s possible. But it’s still in an unwalkable location, and you can’t expect every house to be so easily adaptable. I visited somebody in Vancouver who had a room in an SFH, and I didn’t like how much the SFH layout and atmosphere and yard still impacted it.

      “Instead Seattle is approaching the issue based on an assumption nearly every person needing affordable housing must live alone, in part because what we are really talking about is supportive housing and those folks often have issues which makes roommates difficult,”

      Only because you’re looking at a subset of the cost-burdened. One subset has behavioral problems or needs extra services. Others just need a price they can afford. Many don’t have family or friends they could live with. In this fragmented society where people often don’t know their neighbors (in both apartments and now SF neighborhoods too), it can be hard to build those relationships. Finding a roommate one is comfortable with, and can predict it from first meet, and can get their own room with a full door at least, can be difficult.

      “a roommate one is comfortable with, and can predict it from first meet, and can get their own rom with a full door at least, can be difficult.”

      These are inadequate because they can’t fully address the 150,000 person backlog of cost-burdened or underhoused people. They’re just a step in the right direction. There may be other approaches that would be better, but first society has to acknowledge this is a problem that must fully be solved. Then a solution will fall into place.

      I also disagree philosophically with putting the entire burden on new multifamily developments. They didn’t cause the problem; the entire society did. First by closing the SRO hotels in the 1970s without providing a replacement. Then by letting housing prices rise faster than wages since 2003 and doing practically nothing about the increasing housing shortage as cost-burdening rose up the income scale. It would have been much easier and less expensive to nip the problem in the bud in 2003 than to let it fester into an ever-increasing crisis now.

      “The unfortunate reality is we don’t have a housing availability issue, or even affordability issue, we have a supportive housing issue”

      No, because you’re ignoring people who don’t need support services and make up to 70% AMI but still can’t find housing at 30% of their income. Or if they do manage to find something, it’s 10-30 miles away from where they want to live, in an unwalkable area, with skeletal transit. You’re expecting them to live in an extraordinary hardship.

    4. This middle level of cost-burdening is “workforce housing”: the situation baristas, warehouse workers, school teachers, firefighters, medical grunts, etc. are in — the people who keep society functioning and provide services to the rest of us.

    5. https://www.apartmentguide.com/r/apartments/Washington/Seattle/under-1200/?boundingBox=-122.770,47.193,-121.612,47.832

      This is Zillow’s guide to apartments for rent in Seattle. You can select the maximum price. At 70% AMI for even a single person ($2000/mo. rent) there are plenty of places for rent in the city center if that is what you desire. At $1500 and $1200/mo. there are still some units available although the main difference is location and size. At $1000/mo. which is above 30% AMI, the availability drops off.

      “No, because you’re ignoring people who don’t need support services and make up to 70% AMI but still can’t find housing at 30% of their income.”

      No I am not ignoring them. At 70% AMI a person who must live alone has $2000/mo. to spend on rent so they can find housing. For those at 50% to 30% all I am saying is it is hard to create affordable housing for those who must live alone.

      “Or if they do manage to find something, it’s 10-30 miles away from where they want to live, in an unwalkable area, with skeletal transit. You’re expecting them to live in an extraordinary hardship.”

      Isn’t this my argument for why to not upzone remote SFH zones that are unwalkable and have skeletal transit, even without the small lot size, high cost per sf for the lot, and strict regulatory limits? The reality is the lower your income the more sacrafices you will have to make about where you live. I don’t really know how to lower housing prices on Capitol Hill or Ballard, unless I suppose you go really micro, like 95 sf.

      As I noted in my original post, defining affordable housing and creating/preserving it are two different things. If public subsidies are involved that means everyone else is paying, including those with AMI’s below 100% because property taxes flow through to tenants, so I really don’t want tax dollars going to someone who insists on living alone and has a 70% AMI and $2000/mo. to spend on housing. And I am afraid this whole “upzoning” will use the private market to build new construction that is affordable and not 95f sf magic bullet is a fantasy.

      Otherwise Seattle would not be floating a housing levy this November, and the state would not have allowed King Co. to raise the sales tax to fund emergency housing.

    6. “Isn’t this my argument for why to not upzone remote SFH zones that are unwalkable and have skeletal transit, even without the small lot size, high cost per sf for the lot, and strict regulatory limits?”
      No place should be exempt from upzoning, rural or urban. The fact that you want defend such a 1950s mentality on housing is amusing. The 50s suburban experiment failed and failed hard. It has now reaped what it’s sown, and the sympathy well for it has dried up.

    7. If anyone wants to hear about the difficulty of building affordable multifamily housing in certain parts of the US from a builder’s perspective, the podcast Masters In Business interviewed Michael Levy, CEO of Crow Holdings. They are large multifamily homebuilder.

      He said where housing is needed the most, it’s also the most difficult to build. He said his company likes to focus their building in the southeast and southwest due to millennial migration trends, and the fact it costs much less to build in those regions. In Houston, he said it costs much less to build than in California. He gave an example where it might cost his company $150,000 per unit to build in Houston, but the exact same building would cost $450,000 per unit in California. He said the difference in cost can be attributed to increased land and labor costs, but additional regulations is a bigger factor.

    8. “It’s too much to expect everybody to have roommates in spite of changing demographics and the breakdown of family support structures. Those are larger issues than just people wanting to live alone as a luxury, and will take a longer time to resolve.”
      Pretty much, I’ve been burned by multiple roommates over the years till I was finally able to get my own apartment. It different being friends with someone vs living with them. You get to see them everyday at their best and worst, warts and all so to speak. Which changes the relationship completely in my opinion. And while I’m on good terms with most of my friends who I’ve roommated with over the years. I think we all recognize that being roommates didn’t work out for most of us.

    9. Portland Heights and Southwest Hills are no longer single family zoned. What do those neighborhoods look like today?

    10. So, let’s say we wanted to build subsidized housing with taxpayer money, but do no upzoning. Where would it go? The only place to put it is to wait for a one of the few parcels on what tiny pieces of land are already zones for multifamily, and pay through the nose to outbid all of the for-profit developers. Not only is this a very inefficient use of taxpayer funds, it also means each “affordable unit” replaces a market rate unit on a 1:1 basis (because, even in the multifamily areas, there are still limits to how high you can build). Now, the supply of market rate housing is less than if the affordable housing were never built, which means the price of market rate housing is a bit higher, and a few people get pushed off the edge who otherwise wouldn’t, and end up in a state where they too need government subsidy to avoid homelessness.

      The end result is just a big game of whac-o-mole that never ends, leaving no more people housed than simply doing nothing, while causing an enormous drain on taxpayer money. This is not rocket science, but the pigeonhole principle. You just can’t fit 800,000 pigeons in 700,000 pigeonholes, no matter how much money you spend subsidizing pigeonholes. You just can’t.

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