Houseboats in Seattle

Floating homes on Lake Union were occupied by fishermen, boatmakers, and others in the 1920s. In the 1930s, houseboats were cheap places to live for those living through the Depression. Slowly, the houseboat population changed to a more bohemian texture.

In the 1950s, over-the-water apartment buildings began to replace houseboats and their number dwindled. The City completed a Lake Union Sewer Line in 1965 and houseboat owners constructed sewer hookups and worked to extend docks. Architects took an interest in houseboats in the late 1960s, building them on a platform of cement and Styrofoam, not log rafts. Moorage rate hikes and evictions threatened houseboaters in the 1970s. Floating home owners worked to purchase their moorages in response.

Two strategies for dealing with this problem began to emerge: a campaign by houseboaters to buy their own docks and legislation to provide some curbs on the moorage owners' power. Seattle City Council passed an "Equity Ordinance" in 1977, providing strict controls on evictions and an attempt to hold moorage increases in check.

Moorage owners took the law to court and by 1983 the courts had sided with them, giving owners the right to change the use of their property. A new Equity Ordinance was passed in 1984, reducing the power of moorage owners to use their power of eviction. In 2010, the State asked the City to review the Shoreline Master Program, threatening the number of new houseboats that would be allowed.

This public hearing on July 6, 1977 took place during discussion of the revised equity ordinance and provides some understanding of life on a floating home.

Citations for Multimedia Segment

Audio

  • Planning & Urban Development Committee Meeting (July 6, 1977). Event 4129, Record Series 4601-03 (Excerpts in this Seattle Segments begin about 1:24:10.)

Moving Images

  • Panoramic aerial views of Duwamish Waterway, Elliot Bay, and downtown (ca. 1951). Item 95, Record Series 1204-05
  • Seattle with Mayor Clinton (ca. 1959). Item 560, Record Series 2613-09
  • Sewer Separation Movie: Objective Facts on a Sewer Separation Program, Item 484, Record Series 2613-09

Photographs

  • North view from above outboard end of Lake Union Shipyard showing GSA area in lower right hand corner and present moorage and houseboat development from East Newton to Roanoke Street (September 1962). Item 63791, Record Series 5210-01
  • Lake Union docks, boats, floating homes (August 28, 1963). Items 181551, 181536; Record Series 2613-07
  • Floating homes on Lake Union (1975), Items 179638, 179639, 179641, 179652, 179675, 179695, 179694, 179697; Record Series 1629-01
  • Portage Bay Houseboats (1975). Items 179388, 179776; Record Series 1629-01
  • Houseboat with sailboat (May 10, 2001). Item 117261, Record Series 0207-01
  • Houseboats, Lake Union (July 2, 2004). Item 170772, Record Series 0207-01
  • Houseboats (n.d.). Item 149429, Record Series 8200-14

Documents

  • Floating Homes History (1977), Floating Homes Association. Record Series 4647-02, Box 14, Folder 1
  • Floating Homes Letterhead (1977), Floating Homes Association. Record Series 4647-02, Box 14, Folder 4
  • Floating Homes Equity Ordinance Memorandum (December 16, 1977), Seattle City Council. Record Series 4647-02, Box 14, Folder 1

Sources for Further Research