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Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

San Francisco and the Micro Unit Controversy

This past June, San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener proposed a plan to allow the construction of 220 sq ft micro-apartments. The previous minimum square footage was 290 sq ft. Wiener’s plan included a 375 unit cap on the number of units that could be built. The other day, the SF Planning Commission voted on whether or not the city would impose that cap or if developers could start building micro-apartments at will. In a 6-1 vote, the cap was maintained. Micro-apartment development in San Francisco, for the moment, will remain small.

There are numerous of opponents to micro-apartments, some of whom call the apartments “Twitter apartments.” They charge that the apartments are designed for young, cash-flush tech-workers–a population whose willingness to pay higher rates will displace families and lower income individuals.

Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the apartments are designed as “crash pads for people who work 24/7 in Silicon Valley and need a place in the city to sleep and party….[that don't] build a sense of community or neighborhood.”

We’ve discussed whether micro-apartments are hurting or helping our cities here before. Opponents like Shortt charge that these apartments put the needs of affluent, bar-hopping singles ahead of families and that those unstable populations degrade community.

The proponents (with which we include ourselves) charge that they fulfill a market demand. 40% of San Franciscans live alone already–likely in apartments that are bigger and more expensive than necessary. In fact, upcoming SF micro-apartments are believed to start at $1300/month against $2000 for the average price of a studio in that city. Additionally, many singles live in roommate situations in dwellings that actually deplete the family-friendly real estate inventory. Some have even argued that high percentages of singles actually serve families by increasing the local tax base, sending money to local schools without increasing their populations.

What strikes us as a bit revisionistic about the opposition’s thinking is the notion that micro-apartments are new phenomenon. Throughout history, there have been dwellings like bachelor apartments, women’s homes and even SRO‘s before they took on their current unseemly reputation. These homes were designed and priced for singles. They existed alongside, not instead of, family housing. Somewhere along the way, real estate developers decided that it was better–or more profitable–to shoehorn singles in larger dwellings.

This is far from the end of the line for micro-living in San Francisco. Wiener actually included the development cap because he didn’t believe the plan would be approved without it. In other words, micro-apartment building is moving forward because of the cap, not in spite of it. Once the units are there, the city can determine whether these dwellings work or not.

What do you think? Does the decision in San Francisco foretell a rocky future for the micro-apartment or a momentary blip in a positive housing trend? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • Gogogayle

    I agree with your supporting arguments and feel this is an example where government needs to butt out and let the market decide whether or not this is a viable housing alternative. Since when does one group’s nuclear or non-nuclear make up determine whether a lifestyle option has value to a community…oh, that’s right. I forgot. Since the 50′s. I’m a midwestern middle age marriaged homemaker with three kids. I don’t fit my stereotype either.

  • Dorvo

    Whether or not people are single or party animals has little to do with the size of apartment they live in. Singles will opt to live together in 3 bedrooms or whathaveyou, which is really a family size place, and so if singles are living together in these 3 bedroom places then those places aren’t available to the families. Wouldn’t it be better to put those singles in 3 individual, micro apartments so the family can live in the 3 bedroom? This article made that point well. It’s just borderline fascism… this is America dammit and if people want to build small apartments who the hell are these people to say ‘you can’t build that’. A bunch of geeks who abuse what little power they have. Just because they think people shouldn’t be able to build such places doesn’t mean they should be able to make their opinion law. What happened to freedom? It’s important the world gets real about our huge over population issue, we need to think more economically, think small, and we can’t let a bunch of bullheaded city planners stop us from designing our world to accommodate the 7 billion residents and counting who live here. We need 7 billion micro units stat.

  • James

    Surely building micro apartments would prevent these “bar-hopping singles” from pushing families out of lower priced areas? In any case the level of character assassination going on in this article is appalling. There is a wide spectrum of people who want to live in micro apartments for a wide spectrum of reasons. They may want better access to services (high density living makes public services more economically viable to provide), they could be elderly people who want to be closer to their children, they could be new grads, they could even be people who have to be in the city and work unsocial hours like doctors and nurses. Claiming that they will destroy communities without providing any evidence is unhelpful and prevents any meaningful discourse.

  • http://vizionheiry.tumblr.com vizionheiry

    This needs to be placed in a historical context. Singles moved in San Fran 40 years ago and pushed out Black and immigrant families making it their home. This is yet another move for the single yuppie to stake claim while the families will be forced, outward. It’s gentrification at its best.

    The goal should be to plan the micro-units around already thriving neighborhoods so that the singles who move in are instantly apart of the community.

    Also, I think the units should extend upward to 500 square feet. Families can live in 500 square feet.

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