Rich Softye's 1906 Snohomish home is quite literally a tourist attraction.
“We've had many people walking by tell us they love our house and we have them come on in,” Softye said.
The historic Victorian houses in Softye’s neighborhood are a large part of the character of Snohomish. That's why he's so worried about what might be built just across the street.
“There is some fear going on here,” Softye said, sitting on his front porch.
The owner of a dilapidated Victorian on Avenue E wants to turn it into what's called "apodments." There would up to 27 people living in the house, alone, and more could be developed throughout town.
Apodments are inexpensive, 250-square-foot sleeping spaces with common areas for cooking and hanging out. Apodments are popping up in dense urban areas like Seattle where hipsters rock their alternative, upwardly mobile lifestyles.
But Snohomish is no Seattle. Despite the pretty homes and antique shops, there is an insidious drug problem on the outskirts.
An overflow crowd shared their concerns with the city council this week. One man said the low rent units could lead to one big “flop house.” People discussed worries about parking, whether the city really needs this kind of housing, and whether such cheap housing could attract an undesirable element to these historic streets. Others countered that Snohomish needs more affordable housing, with many residents working for minimum wage at the nearby box stores.
City Manager Larry Bauman says the city has a responsibility to provide affordable places for people to live, but no one is sure whether apodments are the answer.
He concedes that one of the ordinances under consideration is essentially one big experiment. It would allow the developer to build the apodments and simply see what happens.
If it turns out to be a disaster?
Bauman said, “Well, if it doesn't work the program wouldn't be expanded, but it would probably not retract the approved use.”
That means the apodments would be permitted to stay, bringing even more concerns for Rich Softye. “If it starts to slip it might become subsisized, and with the rooms so small there are the obvious fears that it becomes substandard housing.”
A public hearing on the apodment proposal is scheduled for April 3rd at 7 p.m.