micro-apartment

After moving into a new apartment last summer, Carlos Perez made a bold move—he let his Costco card expire.

That’s because Perez’s new apartment on Harriet Street in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood spans only 300 square feet, less than one-third the size of his former 1,000-square-foot pad. So Perez no longer has room to buy household goods in bulk.

Perez, residential life coordinator at the California College of the Arts, is one of many young professionals across the country who are flocking to a new type of living space: micro-apartments.

Popping Up All Over
Typically covering 400 square feet or less, micro-apartments are springing up in sought-after cities all over the country, including Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Austin, TX. Depending on the city and the size of the unit, rental rates hover around $1,000 a month.

Richard Taylor, director of the Center for Real Estate at Suffolk University in Boston, said this new breed of apartment is an example of dense cities trying to come up with ways to keep qualified workers from bolting after college because of the high cost of living. Two micro-apartment complexes recently opened in Boston’s Innovation District, and Taylor said demand was extremely high.

“We were beginning to lose the professional talent that leaves after graduate school because the city was no longer qualified to keep new-economy jobs,” said Taylor, whose institution co-sponsored a conference on micro-apartments in Boston last year. “The greater Boston market looked to these units as one answer to that.”

micro-apartments

Panoramic Interests’ micro-apartment project in San Francisco’s SoMa area.

Big Challenges
Although the popularity of micro-apartments has taken off quickly, living in such tight quarters can come with certain challenges.

Perez, for example, had to transfer many of his belongings into storage before moving into his new apartment.

“It was mostly about letting go of trinkets—photo frames, books, kitchen items, things like that,” he said. “That all went into storage.”

But Sarah Watson, deputy director of the Citizens Housing & Planning Council, which is helping pave the way for micro-apartments in New York, said changing lifestyles among the younger generation makes living in small spaces more feasible. Most micro-apartments are occupied by young singles.

The Citizens Housing & Planning Council was instrumental in pushing through a pilot project of 55 units, called My Micro NY, that is under construction on city-owned land on East 27th Street in Manhattan. The units will range from 250 to 370 square feet each.

“There is a need to recognize that lifestyles and technology are shifting,” Watson said. “People don’t need bookshelves and DVD racks anymore. Their work time and leisure time is often spent on one tablet. These shifts have an impact on the amount of space you need.”

‘Purely Economics’
Although the space in these apartments typically is limited to a small kitchen, bathroom and bed, Patrick Kennedy, owner of Berkeley, Calif.-based real estate developer Panoramic Interests, points out that many of these developments incorporate storage space into the ground floor or basement, and include spots such as living areas, lounges and work or study areas that are shared by all residents, upping the socialization factor as well.

Kennedy’s company developed the 23-unit project where Perez lives and also has a 160-unit micro-apartment project under construction on San Francisco’s Mission Street.

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A unit inside Panoramic Interests’ SoMa micro-apartment project.

“This is purely economics,” Kennedy said. “The idea is how to make entry-level housing more affordable in high-cost cities. The only way I know how to do that is to build smaller, more effective spaces.”

Kennedy, too, believes changing lifestyles make micro-apartments the wave of the future.

“The lives of entry-level workers are not centered around their dwelling places,” he said. “They are really just looking for a place to recharge, regroup and carry on. They typically work long hours, and even their social life is planned on the spur of the moment. They just need a home base.”

Shifting Tides?
Watson pointed out that while some cities, such as Boston and New York, have resisted waiving building codes and ordinances to allow for these ultra-dense apartments, she thinks the success of these early projects may help shift the political tides.

During Suffolk University’s co-sponsored conference on micro-apartments last year, an architecture firm built a 350-square-foot model micro-apartment unit and had it set up on stage for participants to view. Taylor said this helped create a visual image of the living space that made the concept easier to grasp.

Taylor said he thinks it’s too early to tell whether this first wave of development will be followed closely by a second, even larger wave.

“Developers are starting to do research, and the conversation has been spurred,” he said. “The demand has been amazing, but there just aren’t that many of them yet.”

‘Definitely Doable’
For Perez, adapting to a smaller living space has been easier than he anticipated. However, the transition took more than just swapping his Costco visits for trips to Ikea to buy storage bins. Perez spent a month downsizing his belongings and planning out how he would organize his living quarters.

Now that he has the hang of it, Perez even has managed to host an overnight out-of-town guest in his apartment without any problem.

“I’ve learned that moving into a smaller space is definitely doable,” he said. “It’s just about navigating that change in lifestyle.”

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