Micro-housing: The Myth of Affordability

Seattle is one of the US cities that has seen its fair share of debate over micro housing. With our readings for the week focused on affordability, I thought it was a good time to reflect on the concept of micro-housing and the actuality of them in Seattle today.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am a strong advocate for increasing density in our core urban areas. I support building apartments and lots of them, with a range of diversity in size and design. The National Multi-Housing Council determined there is a need for 300,000 new rental properties a year in the United States. In 2011, only 130,000 were built. We need to be meeting this quote in order to make dense urban areas affordable for all.

In Seattle, an answer to the rising cost of living in the city is micro housing. Micro-housing is essentially super small rooms with common facilities. Each unit must be larger than 220 sqft. typically no larger than 350 sqft. As far as affordability goes, we have to understand that apodments or other micro-housing buildings are not designed for family life. This sort of unit is trying to make city living more affordable for a single person, and more rarely a couple. My argument is that, other than the fact that micro-housing is smaller, and then in fact slightly cheaper, it still is expensive! In Capitol Hill micro-housing complexes rent usually around $800 a month. While that is less than the average rent on Capitol Hill, if you consider the price for sq. ft. you get a dramatically different result.

Take a 250 sq.ft. apodment that rents for 800 a month; you end with a price of $3.2 per sqft. If that is compared to a studio apartment that rents for 1100 a month and has 500 sq. ft, your price is $2.2 per sqft. Maybe there is a new measure of affordability we should be looking at. I don’t know if price per sq. ft. is the way to go, but is provides a new viewpoint for renters in the city.

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