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Pushback on small apartments in Portlandia

It’s no secret that the rental market in big cities is crazy.  Crazy as in bad.

This article in the New York Times explains how the people who are being badly squeezed by the rental shortage are those on the bottom of the economic pyramid.  New rental buildings are going up — but only for renters who can afford at least $1500 a month.

Many of the worst shortages are in major cities with healthy local economies, like Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Washington. “We’ve seen a huge loss of affordable housing stock,” said Jenny Reed, the policy director at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. “We have lost 50 percent of our low-cost units over the past 10 years, and at the same time, the number of high-cost apartments, the ones going for more than $1,500 a month, more than tripled.”

Everyone is suffering from the rental crunch.  As accommodations get scarce they get more expensive.  It’s bad for everyone, but for the people who don’t make much money it’s far worse. The people who make our lattes, who deliver our papers, who serve us our lunches are all hurting for accommodation they can afford.  So are students, and retirees who don’t own their own home.

And it’s just going to get worse.

Seattle has followed other American cities in allowing (even encouraging) the construction of Micro-suites.  AKA aPodMents.  I’ve spoken of them before.  And other cities in the States are also allowing tiny apartments to go up.

For the adAPT NYC competition, micro-apartments meant an apartment that was between 275-300 sq ft, but these included kitchens and ADA bathrooms. In San Francisco, legislation last year granted an allowance for building dwelling units as small as 220 sq ft, with 70 sq ft for bathroom and kitchen. In Boston, they nervously authorized the construction of 450 sq ft “Innovation Units.” In Providence, RI, they’re making apartments as small as 225 in the Arcade Providence.

But not everyone loves them.  In Portland right now the city government is in the midst of a controversy over a plan to allow these mini-homes to be constructed.

reusable-protest-sign

 The issue, once again, is parking. …The apartments, enjoy a “group living” designation–the same as dormitories, monasteries and convents. As such, they are not required to provide a set amount of parking spaces.

IMHO this opposition is taking is a very, very, very short-sighted view.  Even the most myopic of us can see that having more cars and finding space to put them is not the answer.  Every city planner since Robert Moses has worked to keep cars out of civic cores.  We need them, true, but improved transit and walkable neighbourhoods will serve the entire city (not to mention the planet) much better in the long run.

And let’s look at the market for these micro suites — not every one who rents one will own a car.  Since affordability is the chief attraction of renting one, it’s quite likely that the potential clientèle will use transit or some form of co-op car ownership like Zip Cars or Car2Go rather than tying up money in an automobile.

But even if most of the people in the building have cars, why are the people currently living in the neighbourhood worried about street parking?  Don’t they have garages and parking pads in their yards? And even if they put up “average” sized apartments rather than the micro-suites, isn’t it likely that the tenants will be sharing them, so you end up with the same number of people (and cars).

I’m very much interested in what others feel about micro-suites.  I think there’s definitely a place for them in the housing mix of every large city.

About ladywholivesdownthelane

Starting the adventure of building a laneway house in the real-estate jungle of Vancouver, BC

2 responses »

  1. Micro-apartments have also been contentious in Berkeley and San Francisco…. Oddly, they seem to generate no controversy here in San Jose. I really like the idea of micro-apartments, and done well, they seem like a great option in many cities, especially if there are many younger workers in the area.

    Reply

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