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Bloomberg Wants to Make Studio Apartments Even Smaller

By Jill Colvin | July 9, 2012 3:19pm
This model studio is about 300 square feet and includes a full kitchen and bathroom.
This model studio is about 300 square feet and includes a full kitchen and bathroom.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

NEW YORK CITY — Just in case you thought Manhattan studio apartments couldn’t possibly get any smaller, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is looking to prove you wrong.

City officials unveiled a competition Monday to develop a new breed of teensier, tinier "micro-units" even more cramped than what is generally built today.

"We’re inviting the private sector to creatively answer this challenge: Come up with innovative models for buildings that offer apartments with new, smaller floor plans ... that will produce attractive apartments with competitively priced rents," said Bloomberg, announcing the plan at the American Institute of Architects’ Center for Architecture.

While there, he toured the floor plan of a model apartment that spanned a claustrophobia-inducing 300 square feet.

Instead of a hallway, visitors to the dorm room-looking studio pass between kitchen cabinets to a bedroom area that doubles as a workspace and living room. All of the new apartments would come complete with bathrooms and kitchens.

The micro-units are so tiny, that more than 40 of them could fit into the mayor's luxurious 12,500-square-foot townhouse on East 79th Street.

"I think you’ll all agree that the apartment behind me is some place that one and two [person] households would be delighted to live in," City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden said.

The competition invites developers to bid for the right to build a new apartment building on a city-owned parking lot at 335 E. 27th St. in Kips Bay without the usual zoning restrictions on size and density.

Under the guidelines, at least 75 percent of the units must be micro-units, which are expected to measure between 275 and 300 square feet — significantly smaller than the the 400-square-foot minimum typically allowed under current zoning rules, city planning officials said.

The proposals are also expected to include suggestions on easing current zoning restrictions to encourage more micro-building.

The pint-sized effort is aimed at trying to boost the stock of affordable housing in the city for young people who are often forced to share quarters with numerous roommates because they can't afford to shell out rent for a Manhattan studio, which now averages $2,000-a-month.

Jerilyn Perine, executive director of the Citizens Housing & Planning Commission, blamed the problem on what she descried as a "huge mismatch” between the current housing stock and demand, fueling an underground housing market.

Today, the city has an estimated 1.8 million one- and two-person households, but just 1 million studio and one-bedrooms apartments.

"The result is obviously a housing crunch that not only has costly consequences, but also leads to illegally subdivided apartments," Bloomberg said.

Officials hope building new, smaller units will help reduce the market for illegal subdivisions, as well as help to free up larger, two- and three-bedroom units that are currently housing groups of roommates, so that they can be scooped up by growing families, who also face a housing crunch.

While some might wince at the size of the new units, the billionaire mayor said he would have happily traded his 600-square-foot first apartment for a micro-unit.

"I would have taken a smaller one if I could possibly have found it. I didn’t have that kind of money," he scoffed, noting that his apartment cost him just $120 to $140 a month.

While officials said it was too soon to predict how much the micro-units might cost, about 20 percent will likely be restricted for low-income families, with the remaining rent-stabilized, Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Matthew Wambua said.

The new building is expected to begin development in late 2013.