Is mi­cro hous­ing the next big thing?

The Palm Beach Post - Residences - - Front Page -

Stu­dio apart­ments have been around in ma­jor cities since the late 1800s. When we think of the quin­tes­sen­tial stu­dio apart­ment, we think New York City, so it is of note that the Big Ap­ple has made some shifts down­wards in the min­i­mum size for a le­gal apart­ment. The av­er­age stu­dio apart­ment in Man­hat­tan is 550 square feet, and there were ex­cep­tions made for a no­table pro­ject in Kips Bay called Carmel Place. The pro­ject of­fers units that range be­tween 265 and 360 square feet, un­der the min­i­mum 400 square feet es­tab­lished in 1987 for New York. Ameni­ties in­side all units that make them more user-friendly in­clude a desk that ex­pands into a 12-seat ta­ble and a Mur­phy bed that pulls down over a love seat. Carmel Place also of­fers perks that are not typ­i­cal in most NYC apart­ments, in­clud­ing a dish­washer and a bal­cony.

No mat­ter where a mi­cro unit is, the ap­pli­ca­tion of ex­cep­tional de­sign makes mod­ern units so much more at­trac­tive than what was al­ways known as a stu­dio apart­ment back in the day. Apart­ments called shoe­box units are about 41 square feet and ac­count for an es­ti­mated 18 per­cent of new sales for projects com­pleted in the se­cond half of this year and next year.

Sim­i­lar projects are on the board all over the U.S., but we haven’t seen any­thing quite that small yet. Seat­tle leads in the most mi­cro-hous­ing units in the U.S. The first of a rad­i­cal sort of de­vel­op­ment opened in 2009 with 46 dorm-like sleep­ing rooms with com­mon kitchens. It was the brain­child of the late Bellevue de­vel­oper Jim Pot­ter, who dis­cov­ered a loop­hole in Seat­tle’s build­ing reg­u­la­tions. At the time, the city al­lowed up to eight un­re­lated peo­ple to live in one “dwelling” with a shared kitchen. The code didn’t say the rooms had to be tied to­gether as a sin­gle unit. Pot­ter con­ceived of a cross be­tween an apart­ment build­ing and a board­ing­house, where some­one could rent a 100 square feet sleep­ing room with a pri­vate bath. A shared kitchen served up to seven oth­ers renters.

Mi­cro-hous­ing makes it af­ford­able for Mil­len­ni­als to live in de­sir­able ur­ban neigh­bor­hoods and take ad­van­tage of pub­lic trans­porta­tion. In Seat­tle, many are em­ployed by high tech gi­ants such as Mi­crosoft or Ama­zon. Liv­ing close to work is at­trac­tive, but liv­ing close to the cur­rent cul­ture of any ma­jor city is com­pelling. The same is true in Brook­lyn or San Fran­cisco to­day.

Of course, there can be strong ob­jec­tions to any de­vi­a­tion from stan­dards, and un­sur­pris­ingly, in Seat­tle, a halt was called to mini-de­vel­op­ments once the com­mu­nity caught up to what was hap­pen­ing. The abil­ity to rent min­is­paces also en­cour­ages ex­am­ples of un­sightly rentals and undis­ci­plined park­ing.

The stick­ing point for many de­vel­op­ers in ma­jor cities is that of­ten, one park­ing spot for each unit must be pro­vided. Each city has their own reg­u­la­tions, and in or­der to get su­per small in­di­vid­ual rental units to work, var­i­ous ex­cep­tions to the codes gen­er­ally must be made. Con­gre­gate hous­ing is still al­lowed in Seat­tle, such as group ar­range­ments like dorms and se­nior hous­ing that use com­mon ar­eas. But in the Emer­ald City’s fu­ture, mi­cro hous­ing will mean ef­fi­ciency apart­ments of at least 220 square feet, each with its own bath and kitchen.

The Tiny House Move­ment, which be­gan with the con­cept of mo­bile units de­signed by Jay Shafer, ap­peals to a pop­u­la­tion of young peo­ple who watched their par­ents lose homes in the hous­ing de­ba­cle of 2007. Many are adamant that they do not want debt and do not want a mort­gage. Spe­cial­ized tiny houses can range from $15,000 to $35,000, de­pend­ing on the qual­ity and type of in­te­rior fin­ishes used. There are even tele­vi­sion pro­grams solely de­voted the move­ment that ac­cepts small and mo­bile homes that can be driven or hauled to its per­ma­nent rest­ing place.

Chris­tine Brun

Small Spa­ces

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