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Living Small

The micro-apartment craze.

Mar 11, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 25 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
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In justifying the subsidies and zoning waivers, their supporters hail micro-apartments as “affordable housing.” But this doesn’t hold up. Across the country, micro-apartments that don’t have income restrictions attached tend to rent for nearly as much as, or sometimes even more than, extant—and by definition, larger—studio apartments. Bloomberg’s micro-apartments, with free-market units expected to fetch more than $2,000 a month, will be roughly equivalent to the average New York studio rent of $1,950. (Moreover, the rent “is 40 percent higher than the median New York City household can sustain without infringing on basic necessities,” notes the Gotham Gazette.) In Boston, units in a building of 350-square-foot micro-apartments will be priced between $1,200 and $1,600 a month. In 2011, the average rent for a 485-square-foot apartment in Beantown was $1,215. At Portland, Oregon’s “Freedom Center” micro-apartments, a 267-square-foot studio rents for $865. The average one-bedroom Portland apartment rents for $774 a month.

The micro-apartment micro-boom is being driven primarily by greens, as it represents a move towards greater population density, a central goal of the environmentalist left. Even as U.S. population growth slows to a crawl, density is still all the rage. “Increased urban density is the way of the future; it has to be if we want our cities to lead the way in addressing the climate crisis,” writes the environmentalist website Grist. In this, micro-apartments fit in perfectly with additional environmentalist objectives, such as high gas prices, telecommuting, and other initiatives designed to reduce humanity’s “carbon footprint.” And in the micro-apartment universe, while we’ll be living like rabbits, we certainly won’t be breeding like them: It goes without saying that the 250-square-foot home isn’t exactly conducive to procreation—or even marriage or cohabitation.

For whatever reason, many developers and the micro-apartment evangelists in government and the media have convinced themselves that people born in the 1980s and 1990s—the so-called Millennial Generation—are just dying to live with as much personal space as did New York City garment workers of the 19th century. One California micro-apartment developer “believes tiny apartments are particularly well-suited for the active, car-free, single Millennials already coming to American cities,” reports the Atlantic. (Note that now-standard bit of cant, “car-free,” rather than, say, car-less.) As most big micro-apartment projects are still under construction, we’ll see how popular they prove. Even more depressing, one self-styled urban guru has suggested that micro-apartments “have the potential to be great homes for people in their late 70s and 80s.” Forget putting Grandma in a nursing home—just shove her into a shoebox. After all, it’s the environmentally friendly thing to do.

Ethan Epstein is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.

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