Millennials are flocking to urban centers with convenient access to housing, work, shops and entertainment. In these areas, micro units — apartments of well under 1,000 square feet — are an emerging trend in real estate development that is perfect for young adults just getting started. Let’s put micro living under the magnifying glass.
What are micro units?
Micro units are super-efficiency apartments of a few hundred square feet, generally located in city centers. A variation on micro units is congregate living, where residents have their own sleeping and bathroom space but share kitchens and dining space much like a dormitory. These tiny living spaces are often near coworking offices where incubator organizations have launched start-up companies. Because shops and entertainment venues are often close at hand, micro unit dwellers have all that they need within easy access. If a city has a good mass transit system, residents may not even need a car.
In cities with high rental rates, the introduction of these new apartments often draws an avalanche of applications. Though the overall rental cost per micro unit may be low because of the apartments’ small size, the price per square foot is at a premium. Square footage varies by city, with the smallest units in areas, such as New York City, where the population density is high.
Who lives in this housing?
Micro housing began as a way to provide affordable homes to those in need, such as mentally handicapped and/or homeless people and those with low incomes. Now, however, micro units appeal to a wide range of demographics. They have become popular with millennials, particularly singles. These compact living spaces are perfect for those young people who are entering the job market with few possessions and perhaps lots of student loan debt. Baby boomers are also moving to this type of housing to free themselves from maintenance, taxes and other responsibilities of home ownership. Older adults concerned about the cost of living in retirement, as well as those who have encountered a financial setback, also find micro living attractive. It’s not uncommon to see millennials and baby boomers living side by side in micro housing developments.
Regulations may inhibit building
In some cities, developers are encountering delays because local building codes have not caught up to this new trend. Local laws may not allow for as many occupants per building as micro unit developers want to build, or may require that apartments’ minimum square footage exceed the size of a typical micro unit. Minimum parking space requirements also can restrict construction. Developers are working across the country to update these codes.
Seattle pioneered the micro unit movement, yet in recent years developers and city officials there have been engaged in a battle over more restrictive regulations affecting micro unit construction.
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