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New York City pursues micro-housing

by Blake Warenik, National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy

Last week, Jeffrey Lubell here at the Center wrote his monthly Moving Forward column on “perennial grains”—ideas that could be used to make safe, decent, affordable housing sustainable and self-renewing. One tactic he mentioned is for developers and builders to begin focusing on smaller homes using the latest research and design principles to make small spaces feel and function like larger ones.

Example “micro-unit” floorplan. Office of the Mayor, New York City

In a resounding confirmation of the value of this idea, at least one city will be experimenting with homes that put premium on design over square footage. The New York Times’ City Room blog reported this week that New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has announced a city-sponsored competition rewarding the best designs of apartment buildings full of “micro-units” with 275 to 300 square feet of living space. (Currently, zoning regulations require a minimum size of 450 square feet.) A sample design from the mayor’s office includes a kitchen and a bathroom, but eliminates closets to save space.

“Young people from around the country or around the world—those are our future, and they don’t have a lot of money,” Bloomberg said at a news conference. “You have to change the rules along with the requirements.”

New York’s hyper-expensive housing market makes for an extreme example of such tiny homes. However, demand for this type of home in New York is not without precedent. The Times piece  continues to describe the popularity of single-room occupancy buildings and so-called “bachelor’s apartments” during an influx of young labor in the 1920s and 1930s.

In other housing markets, “small” homes need not be so tiny to be less expensive than average homes.

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