Micro-aparments are an increasingly popular trend in large cities with high housing costs, such as San Francisco, D.C., and Seattle. At just 300 square feet or less (some in Seattle are as small as 140 sf), micro-apartments are very small, but offer more affordable rent. A typical micro-apartment minimizes space through features such as fold-down beds and tables. Some have small kitchens, while others have kitchens and common areas which are shared among several apartments. By accepting less living space, residents are able to live more cheaply in high-demand areas.
The trend is not without controversy, however. In Seattle, where as many as 10 micro-apartment projects are currently proposed, neighboring single-family home residents have complained about the effect of added population density on street-parking, transit, and public space. Some have also complained that existing zoning regulations which regulate density through the number of kitchens in a building rather than the number of separate living units create an unfair loophole. Developers are able to build as many as six to eight separate micro-units sharing the same kitchen; from the perspective of the Seattle zoning code, these are considered just one residential unit despite being separate dwellings. Critics argue that this gets around the intent, if not the letter, of existing zoning regulations.
San Francisco is considering changing its building code to reduce the minimum required apartment size from 290 sf to 220 so as to allow smaller micro-units. Planning officials expect micro-units to rent for about $1,200 a month, compared to $1,800 for a studio apartment in a city where rents have skyrocketed due to high-demand from the tech boom. However, critics have described the proposal to allow apartments as small as 220 sf as inhumane.
Interviews with residents of micro-apartments reveal the benefits many are seeking through smaller housing. A Microsoft software engineer paying about $825/month for a 140 sf micro-unit in Seattle explained that his micro-apartment allowed him to save up for an eventual home purchase while living close to work. Another Seattle micro-apartment dweller said that her unit offered a better location and higher quality finishes than comparably-price 1-bedrooms.