A Night in the Dumpster

 

Is this the future for micro-units in New York City? 

– Jack Freund

 

 

Anne Kadet Spends Some Time in Artist Gregory Kloehn’s Creation

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Artist Gregory Kloehn on the roof deck and inside his converted dumpster at Pioneer Works in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Source: Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

 

By Anne Kadet

I’m writing this column from inside the dumpster I slept in last night. It’s a little stuffy, but not as cramped as you might expect. And it’s peaceful. No upstairs neighbors tromping overhead. Just the occasional truck rumbling by.

No, this isn’t my personal dumpster. It belongs to an Oakland artist named Gregory Kloehn. When he stays in New York, Mr. Kloehn lives here, in a 6-by-6-foot metal garbage bin parked on an art center’s fenced-in lot in Red Hook.

Perhaps you’ve seen a bit of Mr. Kloehn’s home already—videos of his charming dumpster were all over the Internet these past weeks. He has his $1,000 trash can tricked out with a bed, toilet, sink, granite counter, hardwood floors, lights and a single-burner stove. The metal roof cranks up to reveal two windows.

As soon as I heard about the dumpster, I called to suggest a home swap. Could I spend the night in his garbage bin while he stayed at my place in Cobble Hill? “Well, sure!” said Mr. Kloehn. He even offered to haul his dumpster home to a more desirable location. Would I like to spend the night on the waterfront? In Central Park?

Tiny Apartment Winner Announced—In a Race to the Bottom?

New York City recently announced a winner in its competition to build “tiny” apartments. The winner will build 55 apartment as small as 250 square feet on City provided land with additional subsidies. Yet, rents for these apartments will be comparable to market rate studio apartments in this pilot program to provide more  “affordable” housing.

Any effort to provide more housing in New York City should be applauded, but this pilot program raises questions. Why stop at 250 square feet? San Francisco last year legalized apartment as small as 220 square feet while Paris permits apartments of less than 100 square feet. Of course, there are plenty of “tiny” apartments in existing rental and co-op buildings, many with less than 100 square feet, so it hardly seems necessary to demonstrate that even the tiniest spaces can be livable and are in demand. New York City could produce more housing faster if it simply picked a number, together with minimum habitability standards, and then let the private sector see if it can fill the niche.

But in New York City, it seems, anything called affordable housing requires a City imprimatur. Take for example the history of SRO housing (essentially rooms with common bathrooms) in New York. Decades ago, the City determined that SRO housing was sub-standard and banned any such new construction, except by a non-profit housing entity. But there is a market for such housing, as reflected by the remaining SRO stock, so why not re-legalize a form of housing that has served a distinct segment of the market. Maybe, after a few more competitions, we will get back to where we were.

                               

                                                    – Jack Freund, Executive Vice President, Rent Stabilization Association (RSA)

(Views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the RSA.)

 

Additional Sources:

In Winning Design, City Hopes to Address a Cramped Future- The New York Times, 1/22/13

From San Francisco, a foreshadowing of the debate on tiny apartments that has not yet taken place in NYC

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.

An artist's concept of a 300-square-foot apartment proposed for San Francisco.

“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