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San Francisco approves 220-square-foot apartments

Approval of the micro-units through a pilot program comes as officials try to offer options for residents in one of the nation's most expensive rental markets.

November 21, 2012|By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times
  • Lawmakers approve small living spaces in a pilot program aimed at creating more options in the expensive San Francisco housing market. Above, an artist's concept of a 300-square-foot apartment.
Lawmakers approve small living spaces in a pilot program aimed at creating… (Panoramic Interests )

SAN FRANCISCO — Lawmakers on Tuesday approved what appear to be the nation's tiniest apartments — 220 square feet, including the bathroom, kitchen and closet — in a pilot program aimed at creating more options in this prohibitively expensive housing market.

The city already allows for construction of 290-square-foot micro-units. But Supervisor Scott Wiener backed the reduced minimum size in hopes that the apartments would rent for $1,200 to $1,500 a month, a steal compared with San Francisco's current average studio rents of $2,000.

"To confront San Francisco's rising housing affordability crisis, we must be creative and flexible,"  Wiener said in a statement after the 10-1 vote. "Allowing the construction of these units is one tool to alleviate the pressure that is making vacancies scarce and driving rental prices out of the reach of many who wish to live here."

The push to reduce the minimum-allowable size was criticized by affordable housing and tenants' rights advocates, who said the "shoe box apartments" would do nothing to ease the strain on families and would push the city further down the road as a playground for young singles.

After negotiations with Wiener, however, they agreed to back the proposal  if it capped the number of new market-rate units at 375. The city will study those developments and determine whether to proceed with more construction.

Under the compromise, the city did not place a cap on the number of subsidized micro-units for low-income tenants or on those earmarked for students or seniors. Each unit must contain 150 square feet of living space and cannot be occupied by more than two people.

"We think this compromise approach is smart public policy," said Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. "This cap will allow us to study the impact and ensure that there are no unintended consequences that could result in displacement,  escalating rents or any other unexpected negative fallout."

San Francisco has surpassed New York as the most expensive rental market in the country. The new units, which a Berkeley-based developer has pledged to construct, are smaller than the 300-square-foot versions that will fill a New York building earmarked by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for a pilot project.

"Family-sized housing is important, and its development should be encouraged," Wiener said. "But many — including seniors, students and transition-age youth — do not need as much space or cannot afford it. These units will be a viable alternative."

lee.romney@latimes.com

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