Micro-Apartments Hit NYC

Mayor Bloomberg, Dept of City Planning Director Amanda Burden (Left) and HPD Commissioner Matt Wambua (Right) in a mock-up micro-kitchen. Photo via the AP.

Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg announced that the City of New York is going to undertake a new housing project, adAPT NYC, that will bend existing zoning rules to allow apartments as small as 275 square feet. The pilot program will start on city owned land on East 27th Street in Manhattan, and is designed to accommodate the growth of one and two member households in New York City. It will begin with a competition run by HPD, which is requesting proposals from architects and designers. The rules are thus: 75% of the units must be so-called “micro-units” and 20% of them must be for low-income individuals. The rest of the units must be “affordable,” which is pretty vague, but HPD Commissioner Matt Wambua claims they will rent for much lower than the $2000-$2700 that a typical one bedroom or studio goes for in Manhattan.

According to city data, New York City is made up of no less than 1.8 million one and two member households, but just 1 million studios and one-bedrooms. These apartments are typically more expensive (per room) than larger apartments, as a simple Craig’s List search can quickly demonstrate. Mr. Bloomberg is quoted in Crain’s New York as saying:

Developing housing that matches how New Yorkers live today is critical to the city’s continued growth, future competitiveness and long term economic success. The city’s demographics have changed. We have to change otherwise people will not come here.

This is an interesting program that we plan to watch as it gets off the ground, and it’s exciting to see a city responding in a creative way to its shifting population. However, adAPT seems to be geared towards young, single New Yorkers, recently graduated, attempting to break into the workforce, and seeking affordable housing. This population is not the target demographic of our work at UHAB: many of the tenants we work with are part of large families who are already in apartments that are too small for them. However, there is potential in this program to positively impact these low income families.  It is possible that young New Yorkers, currently living with roommates in larger apartments, are actually seeking smaller, more individual living spaces. If that is the case, perhaps the emerging micro-apartments will take the stress off the small number of well sized, rent-regulated housing stock.

Bloomberg claims the program has also been designed to discourage landlords who illegally subdivide apartments. This dangerous practice has contributed to the death of too many New Yorkers, many of them children, some of them firefighters. (You can read more about that here and here.) If this program serves to increase oversight and safety in apartments, and helps crack down on landlords looking to squeeze as much money out of their building as possible, we’re definitely for it.

All in all, mirco-apartments are not really a bad idea. Manhattan, at least, has seen a growth in one and two member households – they currently make up 76% of the island. Of course, we believe that the dire need in New York City affordable housing may be elsewhere. But as Kerri White of UHAB Organizing told the AP: as long as living conditions are good, and the rent stays affordable, we have no particular concerns about the program.


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