News / USA

Big City, Tiny Apartment: Small-scale Living is New Trend in US

Jon-Christian Stubblefield relaxes inside of his 200 square foot Mini-Suite apartment in the First Hill neighborhood in Seattle, Washington May 12, 2013.
Jon-Christian Stubblefield relaxes inside of his 200 square foot Mini-Suite apartment in the First Hill neighborhood in Seattle, Washington May 12, 2013.
Reuters
Aaron McConnell doesn't mind sharing a kitchen with seven neighbors. He's fine in living quarters with just enough room for a twin bed, a corner desk and little else. Closets? Forget about it - he stores his clothing and other possessions on shelves and hooks.

McConnell's small-scale home life is part of a hot trend in U.S. real estate - micro apartments. "I like living in a community," he says. "It's kind of fun, very social."

It's also affordable for McConnell, 28, who pays $737 a month for his apartment in Seattle as he embarks on a career in civil engineering.

Tiny apartments like McConnell's are cropping up in major cities around the country to meet the demand of people who are short on cash but determined to live in areas with otherwise pricey rents.

Micros, also known as "hostel-style" apartments, usually offer less than 200 square feet (18.5 square meters) including private bathrooms, and they typically come furnished, sometimes with built-in beds and other amenities to save space.

Most feature a group kitchen that may be shared among eight units, although units in McConnell's complex are equipped with microwave ovens and small refrigerators. They also include Internet connections and utilities in the price of the rent.

There are no elevators.

Few come with parking, but McConnell has a street parking pass for his neighborhood that is close to Seattle University and several of the city's major hospitals.

What micro apartments lack in space they often make up for in proximity to prime locations. McConnell's is situated near Seattle's lively Pike-Pine Corridor, an area rich in restaurants, bars and shops.

In Seattle, rents for micro apartments range from about $500 to $1,000, while a one-bedroom apartment rental in Seattle averaged $1,223 this spring, according to Mike Scott of Dupre + Scott Apartment Advisors Inc.

Micro Density

Not everyone is in favor of the trend. Residents of some conventional homes and apartments near McConnell's worry that micro sprawl could overcrowd their neighborhood infrastructure, adding to traffic congestion and making already scarce parking even harder to find.

"These are like boarding houses on steroids," said Carl Winter, founder of the group Reasonable Density Seattle and a resident of the neighborhood. "I'm living the nightmare."

Micro developments have drawn criticism for not facing the same level of design and environmental review that a newly constructed conventional apartment undergoes because a single-dwelling is defined as a unit that includes its own kitchen.

"We did a calculation and there are 19 micro apartments going in on 12 sites well within 1 square mile (2.6 square kilometers)" in his neighborhood, Winter said. "Our big issue is they are not being subjected to the same regulatory process as everyone else."

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is on record in support of micro apartments, as is City Council member Richard Conlin.

"The private market is building affordable housing for people who want it," Conlin said. "Fundamentally, this is a good thing."

Young people starting out, service workers and retirees on limited incomes all need affordable housing, Conlin and other supporters said.

Forty-one micro housing projects have come through the Seattle Department of Planning and Development since 2006, spokeswoman Cyndi Wilder said. Of those, 28 received permits and 13 are under examination.

The planning department is aware of the debate over the review process for micro apartment buildings, she said, and the Seattle City Council "is going through an information-gathering process."

A Second Home?

In San Francisco, some see the potential for micro apartments to become the domain of high-paid, high-tech suburbanites who keep them for the occasional night in the city, a kind of new-age pied-à-terre, as opposed to serving as real homes for working-class residents.

"If they are going to be used for high-tech workers, they will end up having a gentrification effect and push rents up," said Ted Gullicksen, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union. Otherwise, his organization has no objections, he said.

Gullicksen described micro apartments as ideal for college students, who have trouble finding an affordable place to live in the city. "If they ended up being used for student housing, that would be a good thing," he said.

New York City is experimenting with micro apartments, with the backing of Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Last year, Bloomberg, along with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Mathew M. Wambua, launched the adAPT NYC Competition, a pilot program to develop a rental building composed of micro-units, according to Bloomberg's website.

The winner of the competition proposed 55 units ranging from 250 to 370 square feet (23 to 34 square meters), made of prefab modules. The building is scheduled for completion in Manhattan by September 2015, and will include a rooftop garden, lounges, a deck, laundry, bike storage, a cafe and fitness room.

In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino is also a supporter of the tiny apartments, saying the city must create more housing for workers and seniors, and that micro apartments fit the bill.

Matthew Gardner, a Seattle land use economist and chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Washington Center for Real Estate Research, said he is not surprised by the rush to build micro apartments in the past year or so, at least in his city. The economy is doing better and rents are rising, he said.

"Land is at a premium here," he said. "So where do (local) service workers live? They want to be close to where they work but can't afford the current price of apartments, which have gone up dramatically in last few years. The introduction of this hostel-type product could meet a lot of unsatisfied demand."

Jim Potter, chairman of Kauri Investments, said the micros he builds, including the Emerald 10 complex where McConnell lives, provide a housing option for a group of hard-working people and retirees largely overlooked by most developers.

"Nobody else is producing something at this moderately priced range," he said. "You get a brand new building with a new bathroom. You get Internet access and it's fully furnished. In general, our buildings are on major bus lines and/or light rail."

Potter has worked with other developers to build six micro apartment complexes in Seattle, with several more planned. He also is working on projects in Portland, Oregon; San Francisco and in New Jersey. "This product has legs on it," Potter said. "It is a national phenomenon and Seattle is ahead of the pack."

The average stay in Potter's micro apartments is one year, and the residents' average age is about 33, he said. Most have incomes below $35,000 a year and do not own a car.

As for McConnell, he plans to stay in his micro apartment until January, when he's getting married. ``Then I'll see where life takes us,'' he said.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs