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.
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 Egyptian Journalists Call for Freedom of Press

Despite release of al-Jazeera journalists and others, Egyptian Journalist Syndicate says some remain imprisoned More

Turkey Survey Indicates Traditional Distrusts, Shift to the West

Comprehensive public opinion survey also found a large majority of those interviewed distrust all countries other than country’s neighbor, Azerbaijan More

Pakistan Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Killing

Highest court upholds sentence of Mumtaz Qadri convicted of 2011 killing a provincial governor for criticizing country’s controversial blasphemy law More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs