NYC may fit more 'micro' apartments into housing picture

NEW YORK: The apartments in a new Manhattan building boast little balconies, tall ceilings, dishwashers and storage space. All in 360 square feet or less.

It’s micro-living in the nation’s biggest city, and New Yorkers could be seeing more of it. Planning officials are proposing to end a limit on how small apartments can be, opening the door for more “micro-apartments” that advocates see as affordable adaptations to a growing population of single people. Critics fear a turn back toward the city’s tenement past and question whether less space will really mean less expensive.

At Carmel Place, the Manhattan building that marks the city’s first experiment in decades with building super-small dwellings, the pitch is that little can be just enough. “An efficiently designed micro-unit,” says developer Tobias Oriwol, “is just a nice apartment.”

Due to open early next year, Carmel Place features 55 apartments ranging from 265 to 360 square feet. By comparison, a typical one-car garage can be about 200 square feet.

As an experimental project, Carmel Place got city land and a waiver from New York’s 400-square-foot minimum on new apartments, set in 1987. A proposed elimination of that minimum would allow smaller studios in buildings with a mix of apartment sizes, but entire micro-unit buildings would continue to need waivers.

“For us, it was really important to demonstrate how small space could be an enhancement to quality of life,” said Christopher Bledsoe of Stage 3 Properties, which designed the interiors and amenities at Carmel Place.

Long, flat walls without columns maximize furniture-arranging options, although some units come furnished with fold-out wizardry, including a desk that expands into a 12-seater table and a retractable bed that pulls down tidily over a love seat. Developer Monadnock Construction and architecture firm nArchitects worked inch-by-inch — sometimes by eighth-inch — to meet such requirements as a wheelchair-accessible bathroom within the small space.

Forty percent of the units have rents set by affordable-housing programs topping out at around $1,500 a month, but market-rate ones rent for $2,650 to $3,150, roughly on par with many studios in the nearby Murray Hill neighborhood. About 20 people have applied and hundreds requested information for eight market-rate units so far, while over 60,000 have entered a lottery for the affordable ones.

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