San Franciscans Divide Over Pint-Size Apartments
By MALIA WOLLAN
Published: September 26, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO — This city of sprawling Victorian homes and expansive harbor views has erupted into a fight over itty-bitty apartments.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors had been scheduled to vote on proposed legislation to change the building code to lower the minimum size for apartments, allowing developers to build so-called micro-units as small as 220 square feet.
But amid a fierce debate over housing set off by the micro-apartment proposal, lawmakers chose to postpone the vote until November.
“We have a housing affordability crisis here; rents are through the roof,” said Scott Wiener, the city supervisor who introduced the legislation and who says tiny apartments will help provide affordable housing to single people, students and the elderly. While the city’s affordable housing advocates agree that there is a crisis, many feel the micro-apartments will only exacerbate the problem by catering to the young, high-tech set, further driving up rental prices.
Opponents of the legislation have even taken to derisively calling the micro-units “Twitter apartments.”
The proposed change in the building code comes at a time when the city is already deep in the throes of an identity crisis brought on by an influx of technology workers from across the globe. In recent years, several large technology companies, including Twitter and the online game company Zynga, have chosen to locate their headquarters in the city’s urban core, eschewing more suburban Silicon Valley locales. The higher-earning newcomers have contributed to rapidly rising rental prices.
The average rent for a studio apartment in the city is $2,126, an increase of 22 percent since 2008, according to RealFacts, a company that tracks apartment rental data in cities across the country.
Mr. Wiener estimates that the rent for a micro-apartment will be $1,200 to $1,500 per month. The legislation would allow only new buildings to include the 220-square-foot apartments.
“What San Francisco really needs is affordable family housing,” said Ted Gullicksen, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union. “This is not family friendly. This is aimed at tech workers and those who need a crash pad.”
Proponents like Mr. Wiener say the units are not intended for those in the technology industry and point instead to the growing population of people living alone. Nearly 40 percent of residents here live by themselves, the census has found.
But such cramped quarters — about the size of five Ping-Pong tables — worry tenants rights advocates.
“Are we saying it is acceptable to box people up in little tiny spaces?” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, director of counseling at the Housing Rights Committee, a nonprofit organization. “What standard are we setting here?”
Similar small-studio proposals are being considered in urban areas across the country. New York City recently approved a 60-unit pilot project containing apartments as small as 275 square feet. San Jose, about 60 miles south of San Francisco, already allows 220-square-foot units. Cities like Seattle, Chicago and Boston have also experimented with such units.
Internationally, cities like Paris and Tokyo have long been known for their pint-size pads. But in recent weeks housing authorities in Singapore, a hub of dense development, limited new small apartments to encourage developers to build more diverse and family-oriented housing.
“Units of this size already exist in the city,” said Tim Colen, director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, a group that supports the micro-unit legislation. “And we think these small units are a logical, necessary response to an extremely high-cost housing market.”
Source: New York Times