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Extreme Downsizing: Rise of the Micro-Apartment

Posted by Green Builder Staff

Jul 15, 2014 2:10:00 PM

THE MULTI-FAMILY WORLD is seeing a surge in “micro-apartments:” tiny apartments measuring less—sometimes way less—than 500 square feet. Often, these units don’t include kitchens; in so-called “congregate” housing, several units share one. Parking, when it is even available, often costs extra. Micro-apartments appeal to Millennials, who see them as a low-risk commitment as they enter an uncertain job
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Seattle, a city known for its density and smart urban planning, is leading the charge; however, after several years of unchecked micro-unit development, the city’s residents are pushing back against the trend.

A 2012 article in Seattle Magazine debated the pros and cons of unchecked micro-unit development and stirred up controversy. The pros? Micro-units are (relatively) affordable, often located in walkable neighborhoods and use fewer resources and less energy. But some Seattle residents complain the units cause parking problems and attract transient residents who don’t contribute to a rooted community. Up to now, Seattle’s code didn’t distinguish micro-units from other multi-family development, which meant the housing could pop up anywhere. But the City recently proposed new measures, which include requiring design review for micro-housing and congregate residences based on square footage, rather than the number of dwelling units; setting a minimum size for common areas; and raising the minimum requirements for parking.

Meanwhile, the micro-housing trend is spreading across the country. Even in Texas, where everything’s usually bigger, the booming city of Austin is considering micro-units as a way to alleviate demand for affordable housing.

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