Durable Growth

Micro-apartments revisited

Street of small apartments in Venice, Italy

Street of micro-apartments in Venice, Italy

Nearly eighteen months ago, I took a look at “micro-apartments”, which can be roughly described as apartments of 300 square feet or less.  Single-occupancy seems the most likely use of such small apartments, although some jurisdictions, by putting an occupancy cap of two people on the units, acknowledge the possibility of a couple making a home in one.

To give a sense of scale, a hotel room in a mid-range hotel is often between 400 and 500 square-feet, so a micro-apartment dweller is making a life, including meal preparation, in a space significantly smaller than a hotel room.

Since my earlier post, much as happened in the world of micro-apartments.  In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg spearheaded a push for 300 square-foot units.   Interestingly, one of the proposed developers is a tech millionaire who, after having lived the lifestyle of the elaborate and out-sized “crib”, decided that life was better lived with less stuff.  He reduced himself to a 420-square-foot home.  It’s invigorating to see a developer with that level of philosophical commitment.

In San Francisco, a political battle erupted over a proposal to allow 220-square-foot units.  Opponents argued that the micro-apartments would provide housing for young tech workers, forcing families from the city and demeaning the tenants by forcing them to live in tiny spaces.  I can’t grasp either objection.  Wouldn’t providing small units for tech workers reduce pricing pressure on larger units?  And how can it be demeaning to live in a micro-apartment if one does so voluntarily?

Eventually, San Francisco allowed 375 micro-apartments as a test.  After the units are complete, the impacts on the housing market will be assessed and a long-term policy developed.

Looking at the bigger picture, Business Insider commented on the national trend toward micro-apartments.

Nor are micro-apartments limited to new construction.  A shopping mall dating from 1828 in Providence, Rhode Island, has been redeveloped into micro-apartments above small-scale retail.

Given the market trend, it’s not surprising that developers are finding effective ways to make micro-apartments more livable.  I’ll share several examples in my next post.

Despite the puzzling objections in San Francisco, micro-apartments still seem an essential component of urbanism.  Obviously, they can’t be the only living units, but they should be a component of a well-balanced housing mix.  Micro-apartments provide an opportunity for certain demographics, including newly-launched single millennials and active single seniors, to live affordably in settings where they can enjoy the benefits of urban life.

Unfortunately, policies in many smaller cities often work against micro-apartments.  Typical issues are minimum parking standards for units that are often occupied by people who don’t own a car and impact fees that are based on units rather than square footage, incentivizing developers to build a 900-square-foot apartment when three 300-square-foot apartments might better meet the market demand and community needs.

It’s just one more way that inertia and a mindless clinging to the past are impeding urbanism.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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