Imagine living in 400 square feet of space — the size of a two-car garage.
If you can, you’re in luck. While smaller and smaller apartments have become the norm in big cities like New York or Seattle, “micro-units” are now a growing trend in Minneapolis.
As part of the residential boom near downtown, some developers are thinking smaller instead of bigger with new rental projects. Demand for micro-apartments, some as small as 350 to 400 square feet, is rising due to soaring housing costs and more people wanting to live downtown.
“There’s a demand for them,” said Scott Parkin, owner of Northeast Minneapolis-based Verve Reality. “[Living] downtown has a sense of a luxury of convenience.”
While small studios have been around for decades, it’s rare that local developers create entire buildings filled with more and more of these tiny units.
Curt Gunsbury, owner of Uptown-based Solhem, was one of the first to capitalize on the micro-unit trend in Minneapolis.
His project, dubbed Coze Flats, opened last fall in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood and is comprised solely of micro-units, some as small as 402 square feet. Property manager Peter Gulstrand said the developer pursued a project with tiny units because studio and one-bedroom apartments were the first to be leased in many of Gunsbury’s other projects.
Gulstrand said the building’s 48 units, most of which are studios, can still feel like home despite the lack of traditional living space. These units typically have joint bedroom, dining and kitchen areas or combine storage, laundry and bathroom space to cut the clutter.
“If you look at a piece of paper, and you see 417 square feet, but then you get into the unit and it feels much bigger… You feel happy… about your space even though it’s really small,” Gulstrand said. “People want to be downtown, but don’t need all the bells and whistles of a big apartment.”
Units in Coze Flats combine rooms like bathrooms and laundry areas to save space.
Living in such a tiny space may not be for everyone, but developers hope they catch on with millennials and young professionals who want to live an urban lifestyle with less rent and less baggage.
“It’s clearly a millennial thing,” Parkin said. “Their idea of home is living and working downtown and living more cosmopolitan.”
Gulstrand said Coze Flats draws in young, largely single people who work downtown or at the nearby University of Minnesota and want a short commute.
Coze Flats balances these smaller lifestyles with amenities. Residents have access to in-unit laundry and a fitness center. The building also has 30 parking spaces for about 60 residents, he said, so some may ditch the bar and bike, bus or use car-sharing apps to get to work instead.
Gulstrand said design plays a big role in how these units can feel less cramped. The European-style apartments have floor-to-ceiling windows and simple, open rooms, avoiding wasted space.
Coze Flats also has a common area on the ground floor and a rooftop deck with skyline views where residents can meet and mingle with others at one of the property’s happy hour events. These shared spaces may catch on in Minneapolis where approximately 43 percent of all households are occupied by one person.
Less expansive apartments can be coupled with more amenities or shared spaces like a rooftop deck.
Younger renters who want to live in an urban area, but can’t compete with more established empty nesters or other residents for many of downtown’s new units, may also look to micro-apartments to save money.
Studios at Coze Flats range from $1,100 to $1,200 a month and one-bedroom units run between $1,300 and $1,400.
While still above the average rent in the Twin Cities, the building offers savings compared to the average rent downtown, or about $1,500 according to a report by Marquette Advisors. Research on micro-apartments published late last year by the Urban Land Institute shows they usually cost 20 to 30 percent less than more traditional counterparts.
“There’s cost-saving pressure, and [smaller units are] going to be an inevitable result,” Parkin said. “People can’t afford extra space.”
Developers are planning and building more of these units in Minneapolis.
One of Gunsbury’s other projects, the 213-unit 7 West, in Seven Corners has dozens of studios between 350 and 500 square feet. The development, a collaboration with Robb Miller of TE Miller Development, isn’t devoted to these tiny apartments but will nonetheless bring more close to downtown.
Village Green Cos. is proposing a 293-unit high-rise at 10th & Marquette downtown that would capitalize on smaller lifestyles. The project, which could begin this year, would include micro-units, an amenity-laden building and just 12 parking spaces for potentially hundreds of residents. Much like Coze Flats, the development would target millennials.
As more of these tiny apartments appear in Minneapolis, more residents will ask themselves if they can live small, a trend that other cities has adopted across the globe.
To Gulstrand, it’s all about perspective.
“I’ve had people come from New York or big cities like that. I love when they come because they’re like, ‘Well now we have more space and it’s less expensive.’ They’re the easiest people to convince about downsizing or living small.”
Submitted images from Coze Flats