The ‘micro-unit’ mini-apartment building is coming to New York City

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A model micro-unit, in yellow. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg says his first apartment in New York City measured about 600 square feet and cost less than $200 a month.

"But I would have taken  a smaller one, if I could possibly have found it," he said on Monday, during a press conference at the American Institute of Architects' Center for Architecture on LaGuardia Place.

Tiny-apartment hunters might have better luck in the 21st century than the mayor did in mid-to-late 20th.

That's because the "micro-unit" mini-apartment is coming to New York City, part of a bid by the Bloomberg administration to create more housing for single people and small families, and to curb the illegal subdivision of bigger dwelling spaces into smaller ones.

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Today, the mayor launched a pilot program that his administration has dubbed adAPT NYC.

Basically, the city is bidding out the development rights for a city-owned parking lot on East 27th street, between Mount Carmel Place and First Avenue.

Interested developers are being asked to submit proposals to develop a residential tower, at least two-thirds of which must be dedicated to miniature apartments of between 250 and 350 square feet in size.

Because it's a pilot program, the city says it can waive existing zoning regulations that prevent developers from building new buildings made up of small units. At the present, zoning law is biased toward the construction of buildings with a diversity of apartment sizes, big, small and in-between.

Should this experiment go well, the city will work to amend its zoning laws so as to facilitate similar such developments elsewhere.

Right now, of New York City's more than 3.1 million households, 1.8 million are made up of only one or two people. There are only a million studios and one bedrooms in which to house them.

"We've got to provide the kind of housing that people need, or they will create it illegally," said the mayor. "I think that's clear."

Moreover, "According to the 2010 Census, the growth rates of the one‐ and two‐person household populations exceed the growth rate of households with three or more people," reads the request for proposals.

Mathew Wambua, commissioner of the city's department of housing preservation and development, which is administering the program, said the new units are designed to appeal to "young professionals, singles, couples, small families, artists, veterans, low and moderate income families, special-needs populations, and the list goes on and on."

According to Wambua, the units will likely be "significantly" less expensive than the going market rents for studios and one-bedrooms in Manhattan, $2,000 a month and $2,700 a month, respectively.

Cities like London, Barcelona and Boston have embraced similar housing designs.

Jonathan Miller, President and CEO of Miller Samuel Inc., said he's appraised a number of apartments under 200 square feet in size, the smallest of which was a miniscule 130.

"Put it this way, if you're a fan of having a nightstand next to your bed, it's not for you," said Miller, of such mini-apartments.

By his firm's calculations, the average size of all coops and condos sold in Manhattan in the second quarter of 2012 was 1,323 square feet.

Jerilyn Perine, executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, said that rules favoring larger apartments arose in the 1950s, thanks to the suburbanization of America, and the growing size of homes there.

"And so the idea was if you want to keep your middle class, if you want to keep families from moving to the suburbs, bigger and bigger and bigger," she said.

Perine has some personal experience with the issue of unaffordable housing for single people.

Her two children, "a musician and a newly minted research librarian," have been living with her.

"The musician has actually just moved out, but my daughter may have to wait for one of these to come on the marketplace," she said.

Proposals for the project are due September 14.