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Small Spaces: Micro-unit housing and the shift towards cost-effective living

By Chris Falzarano on 6/19/2014

You may have noticed a trend popping up in the media about “small spaces.” It is visible on TV with shows like Small Space Big Style, in books like “The Not So Big House,” and online with ApartmentTherapy.com. This rise in interest is driven primarily by young professional city-dwellers, who are taking on a “less-is-more” attitude. They look for a cost-effective way of living that is close to the centers of major cities, with access to various means of transportation. The beginnings of this movement towards smaller space began just after the housing bubble burst in 2008. We began to monitor our financial situations more closely, looking at how much house was actually affordable and, more importantly, how much space was really needed. Along with readjusting finances came the realization that there had to be a balance between wants and needs, driving up the demand for smaller spaces in the housing market. On top of cutting overhead, buyers and renters began to look to cut commuting costs, leaving city apartments in consistently high demand. In response to the demand for smaller spaces being driven higher and higher, different cities throughout the country have taken action. For example, in 2012, New York City launched the adAPT NYC Competition to develop a new model of housing to adapt to the City’s changing demographics. The winner of the competition, a team of Monadnock Development LLC, Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation, and nARCHITECTS, was selected to fill a building at 335 East 27th Street with their proposed micro-unit apartment housing model. 

The winning design consisted of 55 total apartments, of which 40 percent of them would be considered affordable housing. The apartments will have nine- or 10-foot ceilings and range in size from 250 to 370 square feet. For the sake of space within the apartment, most of the common amenities you would find—storage, laundry—are sacrificed and turned into shared space. Permits for construction of this building were filed at the end of 2013, with an estimated completion date of 2015. While New York is still waiting on their micro-units, New Jersey is already building them. As part of a larger effort to revitalize Jersey City, developer Rushman Dillon Projects is constructing its own micro-apartment project. The project, known as 286 Varick, will consist of 87 units that will range from 250 to 350 square feet. In developing the project, the hope is that they will appeal to the young professionals who want the short commute to Manhattan without having to pay the same prices. The movement towards smaller spaces is only going to gain steam as the trend continues to become popularized. The gap between want and need is starting to narrow as society starts to understand that less could most definitely be more. Stephanie Mendelson is a Staff Architect at H2M. You can reach Stephanie at smendelson@h2m.com.

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