Micro-condos—the answer for affordable housing?

In a CBC News report, Susan Saegart, professor of environmental psychology at the graduate centre of City University of New York stated: "I think minimalists and architects are the perfect people to live in these things."

"But you can just totally imagine having a two-year-old in that right? That would be really terrible."

Dangers of living in confined space
The article goes on to say:

Developers pitch micro-condos as the solution to an unaffordable housing market, the perfect entry-level home for young people shut out of Vancouver's overheated real estate market.

But experts say buyers should beware the dangers of living in a confined space.

"You're really looking at people who are willing to trade off private space for public space," says Tsur Somerville, associate professor with the University of British Columbia's Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate.

"Whether or not it's hanging out in a cafe or being in a park, those kinds of public spaces have to be a bigger part of your life."

Saegart has studied the impacts of crowding in public housing. By contrast, she says, almost no research exists into the long-term effects of living in micro-condos.

In theory, they make ideal homes for young, single people who spend most of their free time outside the home. But things can change.

"This is assuming a sort of a stress-free, constantly healthy young person," she says. "Someone who loses their job or is ill, or breaks up with their girlfriend, or whatever, might find this situation confining and depressing."

It's a little like living in an Ikea showroom. A magazine out of place becomes a clutter catastrophe. And a sleepless homebody feels like a caged animal.

And while a homeowner may start out single, what happens when they invite a partner to move in? Falling in love can be blissful — but in a micro-condo, there's also no escaping a new partner's irritating habits and bodily functions.

At the end of the day, Saegart says, micro-condos may be built for young urbanites but they also benefit another crowd: developers.

"Their interest is in building new housing and building more of it, and finding ways to sell it for better profits," she says.

"If there's a problem with affordable housing in a city, this is one of those devices which is likely to make that problem worse."

"It's a choice, it's a free choice," says Saegart. "But choices become free or not free depending on what is out there in the housing stock and what you can afford."

Boston micro-apartments: a brief history of the trend
Curbed Boston
By Tom Acitelli
19 September 2016  (abridged)

Once upon a time, micro-apartments and micro-condos were supposed to solve—or at least salve—Boston’s notorious housing crunch.

The idea from City Hall and private developers was that thousands of smaller units (some as cozy as 375 square feet) would pop up throughout the city to house tenants and owners who simply needed a place to lay their heads in between bouts of compulsive coding. The expectation—though this was rarely voiced—was that these tinier units would go for relatively less expensive prices and rents.

It seemed like a win-win: lower rents/prices, more housing. And yet: Micro-apartments never really took in Boston. Sure, there are hundreds of new "innovation units" since 2011, when the trend started, and hundreds more small studios dating from before that year.

July 2013
Boston authorizes construction of micro-apartments (or something like them) citywide. The Menino administration authorizes the construction of housing units as small as 450 square feet across the city, not just in its downtown core.

There's one caveat: These new units must be built within one mile of public transit. The idea is to further foster an urban wonderland of transit-oriented development, where young professionals move car-less through a Boston of severely functional living spaces and hip new common areas, including restaurants and WiFi-wired parks.

Importantly, this 450-square-foot cutoff is not as small as the cutoff in other cities embracing micro-apartments (nor is it as small as the 375 square feet that Boston originally intended). In places such as Seattle and San Francisco, they can be as small as 300 square feet.

By 2015, micro-apartments are still going up and still exist, but the trend seems essentially over in Boston.

Developers constructed several hundred during the past five years, most of them in the Seaport District and Fort Point. But there remain very few Boston apartments or condos of under 450 square feet, never mind 375 square feet or smaller.

As for the city's housing costs, they do remain among the nation's priciest.

top  contents  chapter  previous  next