How Small Is Too Small? An Apartment Story

If truth be told, the most worrisome thing about the new "micro" apartments New York City Mayor Bloomberg unveiled yesterday is not their size.

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If truth be told, the most worrisome thing about the new "micro" apartment competition New York City Mayor Bloomberg unveiled yesterday as a pilot program is not the size of said apartments—275 to 300 square feet — but their location-to-be in deplorable Kips Bay. Who wants to live in Kips Bay, the "Murray Hill-adjacent"/Upper Gramercy portion of lower Midtown that boasts, mostly, a fairly good movie theater and some decent takeout? And yet, if you do, you should probably live in a very small space so that your belongings do not accumulate excessively, because these are temporary lodgings indeed.

Then again, if you're living in New York City as a "young person" — let's say from 21 to 40; after all, we grow old slowly here — do you really need too much space anyway? Shouldn't you be out "doing things," experiencing the world of the city and all its delightful offerings? It's not like you have kids and a spouse to accommodate, at least, not if we're referring to the ever-increasing number, per sociologist Eric Klinenberg, of singles living alone among us. And singles, or, maybe close-knit couples without children who don't own a lot of crap, are who these apartments are intended for. So many of us, bookended end to end in these little living establishments, like so many sardines in a jar. This, though, is a known price of city living, and you don't hear too many people actually complaining about it. Or if we do complain, we do it in the full knowledge that we've chosen to live here. We could, you know, move.

Nonetheless, the tabloids are making a big deal about these, per the New York Post"shoe box" sized places, "that would make even hardened NewYorkers claustrophobic." And, in fairness, everyone—non New Yorkers, especially—love to freak out about how we live in such tiny, ridiculous conditions that we, at the same time, pay a lot of money for. This is city schadenfreude.

These places are also a bigger deal in the news than, say, the railroad apartment in which you share what used to be a closet with another roommate because they are technically illegal. According to Erin Durkin, writing for the Daily News, developers will "have special permission to ignore city rules requiring newly built apartments to exceed 400 square feet." (Plenty of non-new apartments have gotten around this requirement as well, you can be sure.)

Among the other stipulations for the micro-pads, according to the New York Post,

The 10- by 30- foot apartments must each have windows and a kitchen area, a request for proposals released by the city specifies. Each also has to have a separate bathroom, just 10 feet long but equipped with the necessities—a tub, sink and regular-sized toilet. As for the bedroom, look no further than the living room. Tenants need a sofa bed, renderings show.

Which brings us to a final point of contention about these apartments. The competition is being touted by Bloomberg as "a pilot program to develop a new housing model for the City’s growing small-household population." And, yet, prices will hardly be cheap: Rent will be less than the market rate of $2,000 a month, it's anticipated—"low" for one city being "high" for another, of course. (Final prices will be set by the winning developer; developers have until September to submit their plans, with construction anticipated for 2014.)

In terms of affordable housing, then, this is all far more "New York City post-college grad," aka, "small-household affordable" than it is "affordable housing" as we've used the term before. These are tiny, small places for the upwardly mobile, not for families or people who are actually being priced out of Manhattan. My former studio in the East Village was priced lower than $2,000, and I had an actual bed, though not a 10-foot bathroom. On the bright side, maybe this will keep all the Kips Bay types in one place, where we can keep an eye on them.

And, for what it's worth, 275 square feet isn't that small. You can always go smaller.

Image via Shutterstock by Gary Yim.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.