Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.
April 25, 2013 at 6:00 AM
What’s wrong with Seattle’s micro-apartments?
Had I known micro-apartments existed when I moved to Seattle seven months ago, I’d probably be living in one right now.
Instead, I rent a room in a Capitol Hill condo with a very nice roommate who allowed my temporary stay to extend by several months. In the process, I’m learning about the city, saving some money and (slowly) making long-term plans. Turns out I don’t need a ton of stuff or space to be happy. For now, this is my life.
I worry about the calls for city officials to put a moratorium on new micro-apartment housing, as reported in this Wednesday Seattle Times story by Lynn Thompson. Though they’re sprouting up around the city, rent for other units in those areas can be ridiculously high. I griped about this in one of my first posts for the opinion blog.
Seattle’s population is growing. Land isn’t. There has to be an option for people working and residing in the city who have smaller budgets and transient lifestyles.
Micro-apartments are not uncommon. In fact, they’re becoming a trend around the world. Let’s take a quick look at what’s happening in other large cities.
BAD: This Business Insider story profiles the rise of subdivided apartments and “caged homes” in Hong Kong. See what those look like in this NTD Television video titled “Hong Kong’s Cage Men”:
BETTER: In Japan, the micro-apartment boom mixes limited space with serious creativity. See this ABC News report from Tokyo Correspondent Akiko Fujita (a former reporter at KOMO-TV):
At a recent dinner party I attended, another guest (and Capitol Hill homeowner) remarked these micro-apartment buildings are akin to”packing people in like sardines.” I don’t see it that way. Many people simply want to live in tiny spaces and with few things, close to bus lines and activities. I can identify with that view. I pay cheap rent because I want more money to spend on non-housing stuff, like living within and seeing all that our great city has to offer.
I get that people don’t always like the design of these micro-buildings, or the fact they blend a lot of units together to create density (and parking) issues. City officials can do something about those things. Halting construction in a high-demand market seems a bit more heavy-handed. Some renters would lose big time.
In February, Forbes published this slideshow and article on how New York City is trying to make 250 square feet micro-apartments stylish and cool. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a design competition. Check out the Inhabitat blog’s write-up on the winner.
Seattle should consider something similar.
There’s so much chatter about the importance of affordable housing. Micro-apartments aren’t perfect, but they’re one solution for Seattleites struggling to not get pushed out of the city.