Micro-Apartments: An Okay Solution to a Self-Induced Problem

A blog about business and economics.
Nov. 21 2012 12:51 PM

Micro-Apartments: An Okay Solution to a Self-Induced Problem

I always read these stories about cities rezoning to allow micro-apartments with mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I absolutely think that people should be allowed to rent or buy a micro-apartment if they want to. Lifestyles are changing, family structures are changing, and in a country of 300 million people there's certainly room for some people who'd like to live in very small apartments.


On the other hand, it's incredibly frustrating to see cities reaching for this solution when there are better and more obvious ones at hand. The implication of the micro-apartment movement is that the crisis of middle class affordability in major coastal cities is that people can't buy the steel and concrete. Rural housing affordability is actually like this. There's almost always some cheap land available in small towns, so what separates the rich from the poor is literally how much house you can afford. Fancy people live in fancy houses that contains lots of physical building material. Poor people live in little trailers. If you're less poor, you get a double-wide trailer. If you're too poor to afford a trailer, a "micro-trailer" might help. It's like how a sub-compact car is cheaper than a full-sized SUV.

But this is not what the middle class affordability crisis in San Francisco or Manhattan is about. It's not that families can't afford the construction material that would be required to get them a decent-sized apartment. It's that you're not allowed to build enough apartments to fit all the people who'd like one.

Most people I'm familiar with want the city they live in to be a great place and aspire to make it an even greater place. But if your city is great, people will want to move there. And if real estate developers aren't permitted to add more and bigger structures, your desirable city is going to become a city nobody can afford to live in. Slicing the constrained building stock into smaller and smaller apartments will help some single people squeeze in at the margin, but it doesn't address the underlying dynamics.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
Future Tense
Sept. 21 2014 11:38 PM “Welcome to the War of Tomorrow” How Futurama’s writers depicted asymmetrical warfare.
  Health & Science
The Good Word
Sept. 21 2014 11:44 PM Does This Name Make Me Sound High-Fat? Why it just seems so right to call a cracker “Cheez-It.”
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.