San Francisco considers allowing micro-apartments

A sign advertising an apartment for rent hangs from a fire escape in front of an apartment building in San Francisco, Calif.

Today, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors will consider whether to change the city’s building code to allow for tiny, micro-apartments. 

Right now, new apartments in San Francisco need to be at least 290 square feet. But legislation before the Board of Supervisors would change that -- to just 150 square feet.

Supporters of the  proposal say the new micro-apartments would be affordable, renting for as little as $1,200 per month. In recent years, San Francisco has been flooded with young tech workers, who are increasingly having trouble finding apartments in the city.

Rolf Pendall with the Urban Institute says such micro-apartments could work for some -- but the bigger question is whether the city can handle more residents. "I think people may have some concerns about additional numbers of people," he says, "numbers of cars; amount of foot traffic; potentially crime in the neighborhoods."

Micro-units have already caught on in other cities. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is holding a competition for architects to see who come up with the best micro-apartment design

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.
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I'm bothered by the monopolistic or superstar aspects of this. If it becomes cheaper to live in those few super-desirable cities, those few places will consume even more of the financial and occupational 'oxygen' than they already do. Other cities with decent opportunities and decent neighborhoods will lose people and jobs even faster than they already are.

Currently, the natural limits of real estate provide some slight braking against the tendency for everyone to gather in one place.

My thoughts on the micro-apartment idea were much more positive than the story suggests. Household sizes are going down, and about 15 to 18 million households will form on the strength of people in their 20s alone, looking for rental housing in cities like San Francisco and New York during a time of very tight supply. Many of these singles need only a place to sleep--they spend most of their waking hours at work and out in the city. Building more housing for them means less pressure on rental housing for people who need larger units. Regulatory barriers to construction of small units ought to be lowered, as long as any true negative impacts of the higher populations are planned for and mitigated.

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