Major cities across the United States have become more populated, and as a result, rental rates have skyrocketed, leaving many people unable to afford life in the city. In fact, it is estimated that about two-fifths of Americans are affected by the rental housing burden, which is defined as spending at least 35% of your monthly income on rent. In response to the outcry over rising rental prices, developers began to put their heads together to come up with a way to make housing in urban areas more affordable. The result? Micro-housing, also known as stack housing or apodments, are units that are around 350 square feet or smaller. This trend has taken over major metropolitan areas all over the country, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
The Appeal of Micro-Housing
The thought of living in an apartment smaller than 350 feet may not sound appealing to everyone, but many find it perfect for their lifestyle. Renters who are eager to live in the center of the city are willing to sacrifice space in exchange for location. Micro-housing units are typically located in the heart of major cities, including Seattle, San Francisco, and Houston, among many others. The location makes it easier for renters to commute to work and visit popular attractions within the city, which is more important to some people than the size of their apartment. Most renters who are attracted to this type of home plan on spending a lot of time outside of their apartments, so they don’t value the size of the apartment as much as other people.
But, not everything in a micro-housing building is small. Many of these buildings make up for the small apartments by increasing the size of common areas. For example, universities have started to build micro-units instead of traditional student housing. Each student is given a small unit with enough space to study, sleep, and cook small meals, but if they need to use the restroom, stretch their legs, or lounge on a comfortable couch, they have to make their way into one of the common areas. These student housing buildings, along with many other micro-unit buildings, encourage tenants to socialize with others in the common areas instead of spending all of their time in the micro-units. This is one more reason why tenants—especially young, single renters—are attracted to the idea of micro-unit housing.
Micro-housing has also been called a more energy efficient way of living in urban areas. How does a micro-unit save energy? In standard multi-family buildings, each tenant will have a unit with a refrigerator, dishwasher, and other appliances that use a great deal of energy. However, micro-housing buildings typically have several community kitchen areas, but don’t have much space in each individual unit for kitchen appliances. This means there aren’t as many appliances in the building and less energy is used overall.
Some renters choose to live in micro-units because they want to live a simpler life. One renter who was interviewed by USA Today said he prefers living in these smaller apartments because it prevents him from holding onto material possessions and becoming a hoarder.
As rent prices increase, not only does it make rental properties more unattainable for many people, but it also makes it harder for these people to work towards owning a home one day. Why? The more they spend on rent every month, the less they have to put aside in savings for a down payment. This is why some tenants choose to sacrifice space to live in micro-units so they can pay lower rent and save up for a down payment on a home. For this group of people, living in a tiny space is a small price to pay to achieve their dream of owning a home.
Design of Micro-Units
Choosing the right location is crucial if you are in the early stages of developing a micro-unit building. Micro-housing must be located in an area where rents are unaffordable, otherwise developers will have to compete with other affordable units that may be larger in size.
When planning a micro-unit building, it’s important to pay extra attention to the community areas. Because the individual units are so small, potential tenants will be determining which building to live in based mainly on the community areas. The community space should include an area for preparing food, dining, watching TV, studying in groups or alone, and socializing.
Micro-unit developers should also cater to those who work remotely. Remote workers will
probably not be able to stay confined to their micro-units during working hours, so they will need a place to work within the common areas.
Many developers believe micro-units are perfect for recent college graduates who need to live in the city for work, but aren’t financially ready to rent a larger apartment. Developers may want to consider targeting areas with large universities so they can appeal to recent college graduates who may be interested in a micro-unit.
The Future of Micro-Units
Even though micro-units were initially designed to deal with the overcrowding and affordability issues in large cities, the trend is slowly making its way into smaller areas. Des Moines, Iowa and Kalamazoo, Michigan are just two of the more rural areas that will have micro-housing units available to potential tenants. This could mean that micro-housing isn’t popular because it solves the problem of the rising cost of rent, but rather that it is what today’s tenants want from a multi-family building.
Micro-housing may be seen as more affordable to renters, but it’s still profitable to developers. A micro-unit in Seattle can rent for between $500 and $1,000 per month, and because developers can fit more units into each building, they can easily profitable off of this tiny trend.