leah missik

Environmental Activist. Runner. Learner. Transportation Policy at Climate Solutions.

“I grew up in rural Kentucky, so we had a single-family house with 10-acre property and big dogs running around. But for my work, most job opportunities that are available are in big cities.

When I first moved to Seattle, I came out here by myself because I had gotten a job and my partner had to tie things up where we were and find a job himself. I didn’t have very much savings, so I couldn’t put down first and last month’s rent and a deposit; so I lived in an apodment when I first came here. It was a way for me to get my foot in the door in Seattle. Which is why spaces like the ones I just described are so, so important for Seattle to keep around. Without those homes, I couldn’t have made it here.

My partner and I then lived in the bottom floor of a duplex that we rented for a little while. We hadn’t been thinking of buying any time soon but then we found out that we were being kicked out. They were going to convert it to a full-time Air BnB. So we ended up having to scramble and considered both renting and buying. We looked at several houses specifically because they had (Detached) Accessory Dwelling Units [(D)ADUs] already, since we knew it would be a lot harder to pay a mortgage without having some sort of rental income, and we were looking when the market was really at the height—not that it’s great now. It was really awful. So we used ADUs deliberately as a strategy. We looked at a lot of smaller houses than what we’re in right now, but even those were not really attainable for us, which is also saying something because we’re two adults with good incomes.

The view of Leah’s house from the street. The ADU is at the bottom left, with a door under the carport.

The view of Leah’s house from the street. The ADU is at the bottom left, with a door under the carport.

Then we moved to this home with an ADU downstairs. We wouldn’t be able to afford it without having the kind of mortgage-sharing that we’re able to do with the ADU.

I view ADUs as expanding opportunities for housing in that they make it easier on people who own a property in multiple ways—financially and emotionally. My brother lives in the downstairs unit, and it’s nice!  Your family can be close to you without intruding on your privacy too much. So I do think there are some really cool social connections that can be found. It’s a good balance. So obviously there’s a financial reason, but I do think there’s something about having that social connection that’s really important too.

I suspect the people before us added the kitchen downstairs, which is sort of what makes it a separate unit, because they’re a multi-generational family.

If we wanted to rent to somebody who wasn’t related to us, we would have to make the additional unit official and do some upgrades. For example, right now we don’t have an additional off-street parking spot so I don’t know if we could actually officially permit it because of those regulations even though it’s a nice space.

I think the parking requirement is bad, terrible actually. We don’t need more fossil-fuel-reliant infrastructure—we live in a city. We need to shift away from vehicles in order to tackle the climate crisis, which is truly an emergency.

My house specifically is less than a 10 minute walk to light rail and to other really frequent bus lines. My little brother actually doesn’t even have his driver’s license. That parking requirement is just something that a lot of people don’t need and is something we must move away from.

It makes building these homes really hard! A lot of people can flat-out build an ADU without the need to have a parking spot. Like, otherwise, it doesn’t pencil out for their specific property. I find these types of requirements incredibly limiting to young people and communities that have historically not had the same housing access due to redlining and loan practices, and I think it’s really preventing a huge chunk of people from getting their feet under them because they can’t build equity.

I’ve also spoken with people who had to really deal with size limitations and how much footprint you can take up of your space in your lot, which has made them either spend more money or do some really creative design just to put in a backyard cottage. So I do think some of the size limitations are onerous.

ADUs are a really good option and I think sometimes these requirements are almost used in a way to prevent (D)ADUs from being built.

Our home is similar to many other homes in the neighborhood as far as its design, and I can guarantee you that others of this similar house design have had their downstairs converted to ADUs. It’s pretty common in my neighborhood because the housing type is really amenable to that. How official many of them are, I don’t know, but it fits right in and doesn’t look any different than any other home.

I think a lot of people really want (D)ADUs and want to be able to have the flexibility. But I also think a lot of times, people would rather cling to a status quo that is really harmful to a lot of people. It’s really frustrating to me that people can try to exercise their spirit of influence so broadly beyond their own yard and try to dictate what somebody three streets down from them is going to be able to build even though it’s better for the environment; it’s better for people; it’s better for affordability.

But honestly, my key priorities would be access to transit, ability to do my activities, to run—so hopefully a park would be nearby—the ability to go to different restaurants and to places where I hang out with friends; I’d want to be able to get there on foot or at least by really quick public transit.

One of the reasons I value the location where I’m living is because I don’t want to drive, in large part for environmental reasons. And having lived elsewhere, like Nashville, Tennessee where there’s hardly public transportation and a lot of sprawl, you end up spending a ton of time in your car, which is not only bad for your quality of life but also for general air pollution.

One of the doors to the ADU, located under the carport.

One of the doors to the ADU, located under the carport.

So allowing people to live closer to transit and to essential services is huge, really huge, when you’re talking about homes. And it’s not just from a transportation side, but a building efficiency side: smaller buildings and apartments tend to be more efficient for a number of different reasons. They help the environment and helps lower your bills.

I want a cool and vibrant city. I picture variety, as well. To me, density encompasses (D)ADUs, but it probably doesn’t to the average person. Right now, you can build dense things that are less ominous. You can have my home—which is a pretty typical house—with three people, or you can have a house that’s literally twice the square footage of us, a “McMansion,” that only hosts a couple. At least when you’re talking about mid-level density, it’s even less physically imposing.”

Home is near transit and a park with an adu in the South end.

We are #SeattleNeighbors. Seattle needs more homes, all shapes and sizes, for all our neighbors.