Is it just me or did the Internets explode yet again with lengthy stories on micro-apartments?


Over the past few days, three major news outlets — CNN, the New York Times and the L.A. Times — have published exhaustive articles on dramatically downsized domiciles in the Big Apple. Of course, all are direct in response to Michael Bloomberg’s attention-grabbing, claustrophobia-inducing adAPT NYC pilot program (if you don’t feel like investing the time, Curbed dutifully rounded up the 10 most hilarious quotes from the NYT’s exhaustive “anthropological study” on small space living.)


While all three articles focus on shoebox-sized apartments in New York City — to be fair, the CNN piece also ventures a bit outside of tiny housing in an urban context — it’s a handful of micro-apartment development project in Chicago that recently caught my attention (hat tip to Pat Jeffries over at the Oregonian).


Jay Michael, a 31-year-old Chicago real estate developer and one-time Apartment Therapy subject, has his small-minded sights set on a slew of foreclosed and forsaken single-room occupancy properties in the “up-and-coming” North Side communities of Uptown and Edgewater. His goal? To redevelop and fill the blighted buildings with 350-square-foot-on-average rental units that offer “big style, smart space.” In other words, these apartments are trendy and tiny — yet spacious compared to the Vancouver’s similar, controversial flophouse-turned-microloft project, which sports the smallest self-contained rental units in all of Canada — and are expected to rent from the $700s to the low $1,000s per month.


Michael’s project is dubbed FLATS and Time Out Chicago has an in-depth piece on what exactly each of these urban micro-rentals will include. For starters, they’ll be outfitted with free WiFi and a washer/dryer. Each FLATS building — seven are in the works — will also boast amply sized common areas including rooftop pools and libraries. FLATS is also in cahoots with CB2 to outfit a model apartment at 5718 N. Winthrop Ave. If prospective tenants like what they see, they can opt to rent a fully-furnished-by-CB2 FLATS apartment. “Not a lot of small units on the market have granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, a washer/dryer,” points out Alex Samoylovich, one of Michael’s business partners at FLATS along with Tom Kim. FLATS itself will be a new branch of Michael's integrated hospitality and real estate investment/management firm, Cedar Street.


Michael elaborates on the art of transformation a seedy studio sans bathroom and kitchen to a stylish one-bedroom with all the amenities crammed into limited square footage.


I wanted to make sure you could live in that living room and not have it feel crazy small. But [having] a living room is better than just having one room. You put your TV here, this is your kitchen, these two open cabinets don’t make it feel tight but it gives you the storage. I don’t think any developer thinks about that. They just slap it up and make it rentable. And then we expose the brick, we pay to have the masonry done to expose that brick. It actually costs us more than covering it. These are small spaces; you really need to put your money where your mouth is in giving high style at that size.

And there’s an interesting aspect of the FLATS project revolving around an issue that caused a fair amount of grief for the developers of the Vancouver micro-apartments: the displacement of the low-income tenants living in the SROs. According to Time Out Chicago, tenants in about half of the acquired buildings in Uptown and Edgewater will be forced to move out before renovations begin (although Cedar Street is gutting the interiors, the structures themselves will be preserved).


To facilitate the process, FLATS has brought on a "transition coordinator” named Sherri Kranz who works closely with longtime residents of the acquired buildings to find new means of affordable housing. She says of Wilson Tower, one of larger FLATS developments: “It’s stressful because some of the folks have been in the building a long time, more than 10 years. Even though the conditions are abysmal — it’s not unfair to call the building a slum — this is their home. They have their family and friends and doctor around the corner, they shop at the local store. We’re really trying to keep them where they need to be.”


In addition to the invaluable presence of Kranz, FLATS is also working with Uptown-based affordable housing nonprofit ONE to explore “approachable” techniques that will keep displaced SRO residents within the community. One purposed idea is to keep a certain percentage of FLATS units at typical SRO pricing — as low as $475 a month — with the aid of government assistance programs. “Obviously he’s [Michael] going to want to charge more than $475, so we talked about different vehicles to fill in that gap. He’s not very comfortable with public money, so we’re trying to think of other ways to do it. He’s talked about it coming out of [his] pocket.… There’s nothing pinned down, but I think he’s open to finding solutions that are unique,” explains ONE program organizer Mary Lynch-Dungy.


Lots more on the FLATS units themselves and the ongoing efforts to provide housing for the displaced tenants over at Time Out Chicago. Any Chicagoans familiar the redevelopment of these SROs have any thoughts?


Via [Time Out Chicago]


MNN tease photo: chicagogeek/flickr


Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

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