What Can Other Cities Teach New York About Micro-apartments?

Images courtesy FLATS Chicago


Building: FLATS Chicago, several potential locations
Price: Starting at $800/mo
Size: From just over 300 square feet to 420-square-foot one-bed units

Jay Michael never intended to build micro-housing. When Michael and his partners started working on plans to refurbish 7 North Side apartment buildings, they wanted to maintain the same number of units in each building. As a result, about half of the apartments in the new FLATS buildings will be tiny by Chicago standards (under 350 square feet), but others will be traditionally-sized studios and one-bedrooms. Michael also wants you to know that he is NOT building affordable housing. “We don’t say affordable, we say approachable.” For Michael and his team, that means taking existing inventory in neighborhoods like Uptown and Rogers Park, and updating layouts and amenities for the 21st century.

All FLATS buildings will feature shared bikes, roof decks, and in-unit washers and dryers. The target market for FLATS rentals are people who “will spend more to shop at Trader Joe’s, but not Whole Foods.” Inside the units, there are no “funny folding walls.” Instead of building furniture into each unit, FLATS offers discounts to CB2, where you can buy apartment-scale furniture. Michael sweetens the deal by allowing any renter in a FLATS unit to have access to amenities in any other FLATS building. If other micro-unit developers hope residents will use the city as their living room, FLATS turns the city into your personal VIP lounge.

Like the Vancouver Microlofts, FLATS saves on cost by rehabbing an old structure, instead of building from scratch like the micro-units in New York. Michael says that $800/month is a fair market value for the units, though he understands that many are concerned about residents who are displaced as a result of the renovation. He has pledged to work with local agencies to help find permanent housing for current residents, emphasizing, “We don’t want to have a bull-in-a-china-shop mentality.”

The first FLATS units will go onto the rental market in the next three months — but if you want one, get in line. Michael boasts that there is already a 300-person waiting list.