Just Enough Space: The Rise of Micro-housing

Jon Fesmire | September 19, 2016 @ 1:31 PM

When people talk about micro-housing, usually they mean micro-apartments, also called micro-flats. Micro-houses also exist, though they are less common. We’ll delve into both, and will use the word “micro-housing” interchangeably for the concept of limited-space housing.

Micro-apartments typically range from about 150 sq ft to 350 sq feet. They may be multi-room dwellings with small rooms, or single-room accommodations with a small, separate bathroom.

The Upsurge in Micro-housing

Many large cities, like Seattle and New York, are seeing an increase in residents. The lure of booming business in such areas draws people in, but also raises the price of existing housing. As such, there is a demand for affordable housing. Developers want their micro-apartments to be attractive to potential renters. Some have large windows and high ceilings, making them seem larger inside. Areas can easily have multiple functions as well. For example, the couch may fold to become a futon bed. The coffee table may rotate upward to become a dinner table for two.

The Controversy

Though the micro-housing market continues to grow, it has its share of controversy. For example, residents of neighborhoods where micro-apartments are being developed have legitimate concerns about parking spaces, new tenant involvement in the community, and where all the trash will go. Often micro-housing units do not require parking spaces. Cities must balance the need for affordable housing with existing regulations. New York has a law forbidding the construction of apartments smaller than 400 square feet, but Mayor Bloomberg waived this rule for a complex called East Carmel Place, where apartments are between 260 and 360 square feet. In an attempt to ensure better accommodations for residents, Seattle, where micro-apartments are called “apodments,” created regulations after this new boom started. Micro-apartments must now be a minimum of 220 square feet and shared kitchens are allowed only in certain areas. Shared kitchens? Yes, Seattle has a number of congregate residences, which are micro-apartments with a dorm-style layout, that include a shared kitchen and perhaps a shared common area.

Who Should Live in Micro-housing

Can you see yourself living in micro-housing? That depends on who you are. This solution seems best for young singles working their way up in a company. For those singles who just graduated college, the dorm-like environment may feel comfortable and familiar. They can save money on rent and, after a few years, move into a larger place. Many in their thirties and older may want to avoid micro-housing—unless they really like small spaces. While turning your couch into a bed or flipping down a table from inside the wall may seem charming at first, the extra grind can become old quickly. Of course, the size of the micro-housing unit makes a difference. Are we talking about a 360 square foot unit, or a 60 square foot house? This video shows the difficulties several couples had trying out a very small micro-house, although the single owner seemed to love her little home.

Micro-housing and Storage

A micro-apartment is by definition a small space. Keeping some of your possessions in self storage can free much of that space up. There’s a good chance that if you’re moving into a micro-apartment to make your start in a new city, you will need a self storage unit to keep many of your possessions safe. However, you should consider the price of storage, how long you think you’ll need it for, and the value of your possessions. You can also consider selling or donating items that you can replace later, and renting a smaller unit for your more valuable items. That includes items of monetary and sentimental value, like your photography albums or that comfortable couch that belonged to your grandparents. Whether you’re happy living for months or years in a micro-home, and whether you need storage short term or long term, both can be a part of making your life easier and affordable.