Micro-apartments are almost always linked to experience-loving, kid-free, stuff-shedding, car-free millennials. But there is another population with a virtually identical profile — a population for whom micro apartments and other compact multifamily housing make a great deal of sense. With 8,000 Americans turning 65 every day, it’s about time to start taking compact senior housing seriously.
A couple years ago, Harvard and AARP released Housing America’s Older Adults — Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population. It found the majority of older adults (aged 50+) live in single-family suburban homes. Because of their size and car-dependent locations, the study projected seniors will not be able to maintain, afford, and drive to and from these homes in the
very near future.
Micro-apartments, a term for multifamily units under 500 square feet, often with high-end finishes and transforming furniture, present a compelling alternative. “The main benefit of micro-apartments for seniors is reducing the amount of stuff you’re taking care of,” says Kevin Deck, AIA, of SFCS Architects, a firm that specializes in senior housing. “In congregate communities, there is no yard to maintain and maintenance is handled by the community.”
Additional benefits include greater access to transportation, more opportunities for socializing, and lower overall housing costs — essential for the 70% of middle-income boomers who are not confident they have enough money to live comfortably in retirement.
SFCS has considered retrofitting existing studios into upscale apartments for seniors, using high-end finishes and transforming furniture to increase functionality. But plans have stalled. Deck says market convention and expectations still drive developers to build big. He suspects it’ll take “external constraints” like the ones alluded to in the study to drive seniors to downsize. However, these ostensibly negative circumstances might be the catalyst for the construction of smaller, more sensible, higher quality housing for seniors.
Decreasing Space, Increasing Life
Regular AARP contributor and author Marni Jameson agrees with Deck, saying “the world is forcing seniors hands” to downsize, “but once they get there, they’re grateful.” Neither Jameson nor Deck believes the issue is “downsizing.” It’s about “right-sizing.” It’s about housing that is aligned with seniors’ physical, emotional, and financial resources. Who wants to spend all their retirement money on an unnecessarily large home? Who wants to spend their twilight years vacuuming guest rooms used four times a year? With less stuff and home to deal with, more focus can be put toward living a great life.
Jack and Linda Sproule, 71 and 68 respectively, live in a 300 square foot studio on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and couldn’t be happier. The apartment is clutter free and hyper-functional, benefitting from carefully planned, built-in storage and a Clei brand queen wall bed from Resource Furniture with an integrated nine-foot sofa and retractable chaise. When the bed is folded up during the day, the entire apartment functions as a living room.
The apartment’s location and lack of things to deal with provide the Sproules a high quality of life. Linda loves that they can get any kind of food they want and can walk to nearby museums, Lincoln Center, and Central Park. “It’s a great place to live, no matter how much space you have.”
The median size of a new single-family home is 2,500 square feet. In our physical and earning primes raising children, it’s feasible to manage, afford, and rationalize this much space. But as we age, as household sizes and incomes shrink, as we lose the physical wherewithal to do the things that were once so easy, large homes become more liabilities than luxuries. With proper design and furniture, we can start building smart(er) and small(er) housing that supports seniors more than they support it.