Is micro housing the next big thing?
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.