New urban trend: Micro-apartments

Aaron McConnell doesn’t mind sharing a kitchen with seven neighbors. He’s fine in living quarters with just enough room for a twin bed, a corner desk and little else. Closets? Forget about it. He stores his clothing and other possessions on shelves and hooks.

McConnell’s small-scale home life is part of a hot trend in U.S. real estate: micro-apartments. “I like living in a community,” he says. “It’s kind of fun, very social.”

It’s also affordable for McConnell, 28, who pays $737 a month for his apartment in Seattle as he embarks on a career in civil engineering.

Tiny apartments like McConnell’s are cropping up in major cities around the country to meet the demand of people who are short on cash but determined to live in areas with otherwise pricey rents.

Micros, also known as hostel-style apartments, usually offer less than 200 square feet (18.5 square meters) including private bathrooms, and they typically come furnished, sometimes with built-in beds and other amenities to save space.

Most feature a group kitchen that may be shared among eight units, although units in McConnell’s complex are equipped with microwave ovens and small refrigerators. They also include Internet connections and utilities in the price of the rent.

Few come with parking, but McConnell has a street parking pass for his neighborhood that is close to Seattle University and several of the city’s major hospitals.

What micro apartments lack in space they often make up for in proximity to prime locations. McConnell’s is situated near Seattle’s lively Pike-Pine Corridor, an area rich in restaurants, bars and shops.

In Seattle, rents for micro apartments range from about $500 to $1,000, while a one-bedroom apartment rental in Seattle averaged $1,223 this spring, according to Mike Scott of Dupre + Scott Apartment Advisors Inc.

Not everyone is in favor of the trend. Residents of some conventional homes and apartments near McConnell’s worry that micro sprawl could overcrowd their neighborhood infrastructure, adding to traffic congestion and making already scarce parking even harder to find.

“These are like boarding houses on steroids,” said Carl Winter, founder of the group Reasonable Density Seattle and a resident of the neighborhood. “I’m living the nightmare.”

Micro developments have drawn criticism for not facing the same level of design and environmental review that a newly constructed conventional apartment undergoes because a single-dwelling is defined as a unit that includes its own kitchen.

“We did a calculation and there are 19 micro apartments going in on 12 sites well within 1 square mile (2.6 square kilometers)” in his neighborhood, Winter said. “Our big issue is they are not being subjected to the same regulatory process as everyone else.”

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is on record in support of micro-apartments, as is City Council member Richard Conlin.

“The private market is building affordable housing for people who want it,” Conlin said. “Fundamentally, this is a good thing.”

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