Rentals for Singles: New Options are Needed

Published on Nov 30, 2011


It seems almost like a spoof, considering that "lack of space" is the most common topic for grumbling about NYC rental apartments, but according to a just-released study by the non-profit Citizens Housing and Planning Council, the problem is real: there's a severe shortage of rental apartments in New York City for people who can only afford (or only need) a very small living space, or for groups of unrelated adults to live together as quasi suite-mates.

Single, low-income laborers would be the most obvious residents in such NYC rental apartments, but according to the report it's also the artists, musicians, actors, writers, and other creatives who are finding it increasingly impossible to find a place to live in this town while trying to establish their careers.

And it's not necessarily that developers aren't interested in constructing or repurposing buildings with tiny apartments, or with larger spaces designed to share; there's actually a law against it. Specifically, for example, it's illegal to construct NYC rental apartments without kitchens and bathrooms, or that are smaller than 400 square feet (though there are plenty of smaller, older units "grandfathered" in); and no more than three unrelated people are allowed to share an apartment.


Is this something anyone should care about? Well, probably, and the folks behind Making Room certainly think so. So much so that on November 7, 2011, CHPC and they held the Making Room Design Showcase & Symposium at the Japan Society of New York (more on that below).

In addition to fostering an environment in which young creative types are forced to pack up their talents and live somewhere else--a kind of city-wide creative brain drain, if you will--the lack of affordable NYC rentals for singles only encourages the increasingly widespread illegal and unsafe conversions, when standard-sized apartments are walled into two or three smaller units, often without windows, creating conditions that quickly become fire traps.

Even though less than 20% of all apartment units in the city are occupied by parents with children under the age of 25, the majority of new NYC rental apartments are built with just such a household in mind.


The Citizens Housing and Planning Council believes that the NYC rental apartment market needs to be diversified in order to accomodate the needs of lower-income singles, without necessarily returning to the once-common (and since mostly discredited) Single-Room Occupancy Hotel model, and so asked five teams of architects to "break the rules" and come up with plans for a whole new type of NYC rental apartment.

Recently the proposals were presented to five city commissioners (pictured above) in an exposition called Making Room, and though there was no clear winner--the "urban kibbutz" sounds appealing though, in which low-rise apartments cluster around large light wells, with communal kitchens and shared bathrooms--I'm not holding my breath that there will be a a sudden new construction boom to serve low-income singles. However, it's clearly a conversation that needs to be started. And so it was.

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