San Francisco to decide if it wants micro-apartments

Courtesy RenderingThink small : Micro-units

Courtesy RenderingThink small : Micro-units

The answer to ballooning housing costs and ever-shrinking vacancy rates in San Francisco might be simple: Build smaller.

How small? Tiny — 160 square feet, plus a kitchen and bathroom, to be exact, for only $1,200 to $1,500 per month. That’s exactly the kind of unit Berkeley-based developer Patrick Kennedy wants to build.

If the units are successful, one of the nation’s densest cities could become denser, and the stately Market Street corridor could begin to more closely resemble Tokyo.

At this point, that’s a big “if.” While first billing such micro-units as “Twitter apartments” that could accommodate The City’s growing cadre of young tech workers, Kennedy and city leaders are now touting the apartments as sorely needed affordable housing. For a central location here, $1,200 is pretty affordable.

But who might live there?

“Any single working people who do not have cars and who want to be close to work,” Kennedy said. “We’d like them to be hotel workers, people that work in retail, people who work in The City. We’re also close to City Hall, and we’re hopeful we can get students to live there.”

Under current city rules, Kennedy can build one of his small apartment projects at Ninth and Mission streets. But another project planned for Eighth Street would need The City to reduce the minimum unit size to 150 square feet.

The Board of Supervisors will discuss the change next month, and Supervisor Scott Wiener is already addressing criticism that the new apartments will eat up space needed for affordable family housing.

“We have many older apartments with three or four bedrooms, but those are being taken by single people living with roommates,” Wiener said. “These smaller spaces could attract those people and potentially open up more of those for family housing.”

Ted Gullicksen, head of the San Francisco Tenants Union, said the idea is worth considering, but he has his doubts about the affordability issue. Any new housing built here is not subject to rent control laws, he noted. But if the smaller spaces are approved, the rule relaxation would only apply to new construction, thus preventing current property owners from subdividing one-bedroom apartments into studios.

“The issue is not the size of them, people are going to be moving into them voluntarily,” Gullicksen said. “We support affordable housing when it is, in fact, affordable.”

Kennedy said the rental market will ultimately determine the success or failure of tiny apartments.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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