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Micro Apartments and Co-Living: the Future of Urban Living

Different Cities, Common Problems

Apartment hunters in urban centers from Washington, DC to Vancouver, BC all face similar situations: securing a suitable space amid rising rental prices and a shrinking inventory of affordable housing.

Until recently, changes in the demographic make-up of urban dwellers went largely ignored by developers of residential properties. Now, policymakers in urban centers across the country – and throughout the world – are beginning to rethink outdated housing models, attempting to adapt to new realities of how city residents live and work. For example, in New York City, almost half of adults over 25 are single people living alone; 9% of renters are single-parent families where a grandparent may also be living in the home. These findings are a result of research conducted by the Citizens Housing and Planning Council as part of their “Making Room” initiative. The project explored how different housing designs and layouts of housing units might satisfy emerging housing needs. (Resource Furniture was pleased to partner with CHPC on “Making Room: Housing for a Changing America,” an exhibit running at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC through January 2019.)

Outdated housing regulations also play a role. Lately, Vancouver has been reviewing their single-family zoning laws, which impose rules that ban the construction of all but detached houses on large sections of land around the city. As the lack of affordable housing reaches crisis levels, city officials recognized the need to liberalize these laws to allow for more building options in residential neighborhoods. This past summer Vancouver launched its own “Making Room” initiative, a strategy for opening these single-family areas up and developing more duplexes, row houses, and small apartment buildings.

Moving Towards More Sustainable Models

Demographic trends and revamped zoning laws aren’t the only drivers of change. Americans are becoming increasingly sensitive to the sustainability of our urban environments, demanding eco-friendly options and choosing to occupy smaller spaces. New residential buildings are now being designed, developed, and managed with these factors in mind. Micro-units and co-living spaces that encourage sharing and/or roommates are growing in popularity, especially among single adults. People seek co-living arrangements for a variety of reasons: some face budgetary constraints, others may be seeking a way to feel less isolated and more connected with their communities. Whatever the reason, co-living enables a more sustainable lifestyle through the sharing of space and resources.

Using space efficiently is a key criterion for architects, developers, and interior designers working on micro apartments and co-living projects, and as this sector of the market grows we are seeing more and more examples of successful execution. In New York’s Long Island City neighborhood, the new ALTA+ has opened: with 422 furnished shared micro-suites, it is the largest co-loving space in the U.S. A shared suite in ALTA+ includes multifunctional furniture from Resource Furniture, linen/laundry services, housekeeping, and grocery shopping services; ALTA+ residents have access to shared work and leisure spaces (including swimming pool) and can take advantage of mixers, lectures, fitness classes and other community activities.

The two- and three- bedroom micro suites are renting out faster than they can be furnished. To date, Resource Furniture has delivered and installed 2,200 multi-functional pieces that optimize the use of available space. Each suite features a high-end Murphy bed like the Swing Chaise, a sofa wall bed combination that boasts a slide-out chaise and built-in hidden storage, or the twin Kali Sofa wall bed. Units with the Penelope Sofa, a vertically-opening, freestanding Murphy bed with a three seat sofa also include the space-saving Genie, a coffee table that rises to dining table height that can be stowed under the sofa when it’s not needed.

Not Just for Millenials

ALTA+'s original intended target are millennials, the company didn’t expect the high level of interest they’ve received from baby boomers who want to live at ALTA+. Trends indicate that older Americans are rejecting traditional senior housing models, seeking better options for communal living in rental properties, and recognizing the appeal of living/retiring in urban areas. A portion of these are empty nesters choosing to leave their suburban homes to be closer to their city-dwelling kids. Many boomers just don’t feel old enough to move into a retirement community or senior housing; properties like ALTA+ are highly attractive to those who long for a sense of community that’s not available to them in the suburbs.

Whether the shift toward co-living will help ease cities’ housing crises remains to be seen, but all indications show that urban dwellers, young and old, are increasing interested in the model.