Some more thoughts about microunits


Bisnow has an interesting piece on the state of the art in microunits.

For those who don’t know, “microunit” is the name given to super-small studios being developed in expensive coastal cities. The idea is to create a self-contained 220-350 sq ft apartment which, in theory, ought to be affordable for younger tenants who care more about proximity to interesting bars, restaurants, parks, etc. than they do about having huge kitchens.

Notably absent from the article is any mention of Los Angeles.

That’s weird, right? We have a lot of the same housing affordability issues as the cities mentioned, including NY, SF, etc. So what’s going on?

As usual, it’s a zoning / parking issue. Without some change to the zoning code, even the smallest units require at least one parking space each. Given that you’re going to need to provide a parking space (and carry the cost of doing so), your incentive is to build the biggest studio you can, in order to amortize the cost of the parking across more rent.

What the city ought to do is conduct an experiment. Let someone build a big microunit building in a reasonably desirable area (downtown?), right next to a metro stop, with 50% of the usual parking. Require that the parking be rented separately from the units, so the units rented without parking will be cheap. Require a ton of bike storage. Perhaps require a waiting area in front for Ubers. See what happens.

My guess is that the building would fill up in about five seconds.

So long as this is done in already-dense areas where the infrastructure can handle the influx of residents without parking, this seems like a huge win for the city… obviously it would increase tax revenue. But, more importantly, it would provide lower-cost housing for young people who are the engine of our creative economy.