Most New Yorkers cannot afford a market-rate apartment. Elderly, empty nesters, divorcees or millennials don’t need a large apartment. Many of them don’t cook at all or cook occasionally. For these reasons large cities need to explore unconventional ways to build more affordable apartments that people can rent.
In the past 30 years the percentage of married couples living together declined from 80% to 50% of the population; baby boomers will make up 1 out of 3 people living in the US by 2020 (people over 55 years old); millennials in 2014 make 20% less than they made in 2010!. All these factors show a need for smaller and more affordable apartments.
Throughout the world many attempts have been made to build affordable apartment. From the more radical Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo to the more mundane NY Greenwich Village-like studios. Most of these didn’t work out because of poor construction or changing lifestyle and city or fire codes.
To address the affordability problem in NYC former Mayor Bloomberg came up with adAPT NYC, a design competition which created 55 micro-apartments with sizes ranging from 250-350 sq. ft. Special variances were granted to allow this building to be built without conforming to NYC building and zoning codes. These studio apartments come with a 70 SF kitchen, a full bathroom and a juliette balcony (I call it a fake balcony).
Rents start at $2500 for a 350 SF apartment which is more expensive per square foot than rents in the tony Flatiron District! Using the standard NYC landlord formula (Monthly Rent TIMES 40 = Salary Required) you would need to bring in $100,000 per year to afford this $2500 micro Apartment rent. Yes, for a MICRO apartment! PSSST: If you think the developer is making out like a bandit think again – simple math tells me he makes less than a 5% return!
Everyone loses: the landlord can’t afford to build affordable apartments, the city cannot house their growing population and the tenant is left without an affordable apartment. The goal is to build more apartments that are affordable to NYC workers. If we want to have affordable apartment then everyone has to think outside the box: government, developers and tenants alike.
For example developers could use lesser quality finishes such as cheaper tiles, sinks, windows, toilets, etc. Since all buildings have to have concrete, windows, an elevator and other basics, these lower quality finishes represent an insignificant drop in the total cost of under 5%.
Government should not relax regulation on fire prevention, a smaller elevator, less efficient insulation because fire prevention should be the last thing we should compromise on for the safety of our people; a smaller elevator would make emergency rescue harder and less insulation would simply transfer the heating or cooling costs onto the tenants. A smaller apartment appears to be the only solution here.
I propose that the city mandates a portion of all new Apartments be built without kitchens and instead build kitchens in common areas accessible to these tenants.
A kitchen at this micro apartment takes up approx. 70 SF (out of a total of 350SF) and costs approx. 22% of the total apartment cost including land and building. Removing a kitchen and replacing them with a common kitchen could lower rents from $2,500 to $1,950. This alone would lower your income requirement from $100,000 to $78,000.
Many things need to come to a head for this to happen
- Logistics issues would have to be addressed:
- who would make sure the kitchen is clean for the next user
- what happens if multiple tenants want to cook at the same time?
- NYC Building Code would have to be amended because an apartment has to contain a kitchen otherwise it is considered a hotel room.
- American with Disabilities Act (ADA) design and minimum size issues would have to be addressed too.
I’m not saying that a smaller apartment is a solution for everyone but it is definitively a solution for the elderly, empty nesters, divorcees or millennials which represent more than half the apartments in NYC. If we start building them now we can begin providing appropriately-sized, affordable living for many New Yorkers.