Will a Micro Apartment be in Your NYC Future?

Published on Jul 16, 2012

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Are tiny NYC micro apartments the wave of the future?

The Manhattan rental apartment report for this years second quarter was released recently and, no surprise to anyone currently hunting for a place to live, rents are high. As in: really high. As in: almost EIGHT PERCENT higher than last year at this time, coming in at an average of $3,125 a month for a Manhattan rental apartment.

Landlord concessions are almost non-existent, received by fewer than 4% of new Manhattan rental apartment residents, and the steepest rent hikes--over 15% more than 2011!--were seen in the classic NYC starter apartment, the studio.

Little wonder, then, that Mayor Bloomberg's unrelated-but-clearly-related announcement about the adAPT NYC Competition, in which firms are invited to submit innovative designs for efficient, comfortable, livable micro-apartments--I'm talking 300-square-foot jobbers here--caused such a mix of excitement and despair.

Lets get real here, for a second. There are already many legal rental apartments in the city that are already 300 sq ft... and less. The minimum currently allowed (450 sq. ft.) is only for new buildings, and older buildings would have been grandfathered in when that law was passed. The difference here is, in order to be able to build smaller units, the developer is going to have to follow some prescribed design features to make the units more efficient in terms of layout and storage.

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Here's the thing: New York City is not getting any less populated, or any less expensive, in the coming years and decades, so rather than further exclude an entire group of New Yorkers, the working-/middle-class single or couple, the adAPT NYC Competition hopes to create a new form of Manhattan rental, the micro apartment.

At 300 square feet, it's smaller by a third than what is currently allowed by NYC housing regulations for new construction, and each entry into the competition will be judged by how effectively it uses light, space, accessibility, and shared space.

Once a winner is chosen (the goal is "by the end of the year"), the city will implement the design into an entire, city-owned building in Kips Bay, price to be determined but, presumably (hopefully?), noticeably less expensive than your average Manhattan studio rental.

The real question here is, what kind of buildings will they be in? If they are in a high-end luxury building, prices are still going to be expensive, just less expensive that current studio are going for. However, that could still mean prices of over $2,000 in some buildings.

To address the real problem, they need to have units like these built in buildings without all the amenities, etc. to really bring the cost down. Or maybe bring back the concept of the "rooming house," where people rent rooms with a shared or private bath, not apartments. A few still exist in the city... but there used to be many more of them.

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Overall, I think this micro apartment concept is a great idea, for recent grads, NYC newbies, couples who REALLY like each other, empty-nesters, and retirees. Sure you're not going to have room for a lot of "stuff", but maybe that's a good thing.

Besides, the living-minimally trend pieces are already appearing, about how to furnish your new NYC micro apartment rental, like this article in the Times, with more than a dozen efficient (though sometimes silly.. a toothbrush you chew?) designs, some still in prototype.

And the Post takes a look at an actual, right-now-at-this-moment Brooklyn Heights rental apartment, currently being lived in by a real-life couple, that clocks it at a microscopic 240 square feet... though I must say, their place has more kitchen counter space than a couple of Manhattan rental apartments I've lived in over the years.

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