The Green Report: Micro-Housing Edition

As rents and the demand for apartments continue to climb, one trend has been popping up a lot in the news lately: micro-units. Call them what you will (apodments, micro-partments, mini-housing), the idea is certainly an intriguing one for landlords and tenants alike–just how much can you charge for a 200-300 square foot apartment, and how many of them will fit in a building? It also scores points for being an ecologically sound model: as we know, higher-density living is almost always greener than suburban life, and smaller spaces naturally take less energy to heat and cool, and can utilize smaller water heaters and other appliances.

From the New York City Mayor’s Office and the New York Times

The idea is so popular that this July, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a competition, sponsored by the city, to design the ultimate (very efficient) 275-300 square foot Manhattan apartment. But just how new is the idea of the micro-apartment? Where are they being built, and exactly how much are tenants (and landlords) welcoming the concept?

The Apartment of the Future?

While no one was blogging about how the micro-unit was the hipster thing to do in 1910, the average apartment in Seattle at that time was less than 500 square feet. After that, the American renting public oscillated over the decades–the 1930s brought the golden age of the Murphy Bed and motel-style kitchens, while the 1950s saw young couples needing more bedrooms for their Boomer children. From then on, the trend was for more space, as the American Dream became about the accumulation of wealth: cars in the garage, record collections…but in this new millennium, the era of physical accumulation has been brought to a screeching halt by one simple concept: the Cloud (see our recent Apartment Advisor recap for more on this).

Essentially, many of this year’s trends add up to a perfect climate for micro-housing. Younger renters want the flexibility of renting; they enjoy shared amenities like fitness areas, dog parks and rooftop decks, but they don’t need much space to store their belongings, since so much of their lives is on their iPhones and Kindles. They are more likely to meet friends in the city for dinner than to entertain at home (the “City as living room” is key to making micro-housing work), and in many cities, micro-housing is truly all they can afford–and it may well fulfill all of their needs.

Micro-Housing Coast to Coast

New York: While many New Yorkers have rented and shared apartments the size of an Ikea futon since long before the term micro-housing was ever coined, the fact is, there simply aren’t enough studios for the number of single people in New York–and most can’t afford the rental prices on a one-bedroom. This NYTimes article profiles several women living in micro-units, including a 170 square-foot West Village walk-up (“here is what Ms. Stolarski’s apartment does not have: a couch; tchotchkes; specks of dirt; paperwork…”) where she stores sweaters in the oven, Carrie-Bradshaw style. As for Mayor Bloomberg’s contest, we’ll be interested to see what the architects come up with; we’ll keep you posted.

Seattle: Even smaller than the apartments profiled in New York, micro-units called apodments have been cropping up in Seattle (Capitol Hill and the U-District, of course). Built by Calhoun Properties, apodments run less than 100 square feet, come “furnished,” and feature no utility or HOA fees–and not everyone is sure what to think of them at this stage in the game (check out this article over at Curbed.com). Rents run between $450 and $700, and kitchens are often shared. With interiors a bit more utilitarian than the studios featured in the New York Times, but also including rooftop decks, mirrored closets and large windows, the apodments concepts begs the question: just how small can an apartment be?

Only time (and the market) will tell if micro-housing catches on in a big way. In the meantime, will you be re-branding your mother-in-law rental a “micro-unit?” Are you selling your furniture on Craigslist right now so you can move in to a smaller space? Weigh in below.

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