NEW YORK—With the crime-ridden days of the 1970s and ’80s a distant memory, people from around the world are once again flocking to work in the Big Apple.
This has led to a new problem—where can the new city dwellers sleep?
The city’s population is approximately 8.2 million people—and growing. In addition, people are starting families later. According to data from the Center for Disease Control, the average age of women giving birth to their first child was 26.8 in New York state in 2006, compared to 22.5 in 1970.
This has bred a higher demand for one- and two-person homes, a demand that is not even close to being met by the supply.
“Today there are about 1.8 million one- and two-person households in our city, but there are only about 1 million studio and one-bedroom apartments,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said from the American Institute of Architects’ Center for Architecture Monday. “The result is not only a housing crunch that has costly consequences, but also leads to illegally subdivided apartments.”
Competition for Design
The city is seeking help from the private sector by launching the adAPT NYC Competition. The winner will design smaller “micro” apartment units in a new development at 335 E. 27th St., in Manhattan’s Kips Bay area.
Seventy-five percent of the new development will be microunits—apartments roughly 275–300 square feet each. Since the project is in its early planning stages, rent is not yet set. Mathew Wambua, commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said he expects the rent to be below market average, now $2,000 per month for a studio and $2,700 per month for a one bedroom.
The city will waive zoning regulations for the microunits. The current regulations allow no less than 450 square feet for a studio in a new development. Bloomberg said he believes breaking the decades-old laws are necessary to keep up with the ever-expanding population.
“You have to change your rules along with the requirements. If you don’t, people can’t come here, and people do things like breaking up apartments illegally. That is really dangerous,” Bloomberg said.
The zoning laws were largely put in place to discourage rundown and often overcrowded housing, or tenement housing—a problem exposed by Jacob Riis in 1890 when he photographed the New York City slums. The housing back then accommodated large families in small places, with poor ventilation, limited access to proper toilets, and no windows.
The mayor assured everyone that these microunits, while small, would each have a bathroom, a window, and plenty of airflow.
The Citizens Housing and Planning Council (CHPC) has been studying the lack of space in the city for today’s one- and two-person units for years, through its own project called Making Room.
Jerilyn Perine, executive director of CHPC, has noticed a trend within the underground housing market. She said websites such as Craigslist help meet the increased demand for living spaces, but Craigslist is not regulated. Apartments may not be meeting building codes by cramming four or five people in a single-family unit, or by renting out a basement or attic.
“We want all these people, but we need to figure out a better way to make room for them and not just leave them to fend for themselves in the underground housing market, which can lead to dangerous conditions or no legal rights,” Perine said.
Perine said this new project will help serve as a litmus test for changing the laws to meet today’s needs. If this pilot is successful, Perine hoped to move on to create similar microhousing in the other boroughs.
Groundbreaking is expected on the Kips Bay microhousing project by 2013.
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