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Mini-Apartments Are the Next Big Thing in U.S. Cities


Digested From “Mini-Apartments Are the Next Big Thing in U.S. Cities”
Green Bay Post-Gazette (08/01/13) Koch, Wendy

Mini-apartments are popping up in more and more American cities where land is finite, downtowns have regained their allure, and monthly rents continue to climb. In an age when library-sized book collections can be stored on a single, hand-held device, more Americans view downsizing as feasible, economical, and eco-friendly. These mini-units are typically about 300 square feet, which is slightly bigger than a single-car garage.

Mini-sizing is common in Tokyo and a number of European capitals as a smart-growth, lower-priced solution to the increased number of people living alone. Nationwide, the share of U.S. households occupied by a single person topped 27 percent in 2010 versus 8 percent in 1940 and 18 percent in 1970. That number exceeds 40 percent in such major job centers as Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, St. Louis, and the District of Columbia, notes the latest Census data. Seattle has led the country with hundreds of dorm-like "sleeping rooms" as tiny as 150 square feet. "It's an accelerating trend in the industry, especially where space is at a premium," reports Ryan Severino, senior economist at Reis Inc. "You're seeing an urban renaissance." More and more Millennials, those typically younger than 30, are drawn to cities where they can both work and socialize and are proving that they will gladly sacrifice space for a "quality" location.  

To this end, such markets as Boston and Chicago are experimenting with change. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently launched a micro-housing pilot project of 55 units that range from 250 to 370 square feet. The Big Apple usually requires apartments to be at least 400 square feet. New Yorkers who live in such "itsy-bitsy" apartments often speak with bravado about their space-saving savvy.  "We don't necessarily look at them as mini-apartments, but as standard, live-in-New York apartments," states agent Jason Saft.

Opponents, though, charge that the tiny apartments often cause crowding in already congested neighborhoods. Many also offer month-to-month leases that do not encourage people to put down roots. Critics further charge that developers in this niche often circumvent a design review process that entails community input. On the plus side, advocates counter that such micro-product provides an affordable housing option for many without government subsidy. Seattle-based developer Jim Potter concludes, "It's not for everyone. This is intended for people who are busy and want a place to sleep and take a shower."

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