How NYC And San Francisco Plan To Solve Their Housing Crises

Build tinier apartments.

BUSINESS WIRE / AP

Welcome to your new San Francisco apartment.

This week, both San Francisco and New York — two cities whose economies have been energized by the tech boom and whose housing markets have gotten increasingly insane — championed initiatives to make it easier for the 99 percent to live in the city.

Basically, go small and go home.

On Monday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a challenge to developers to make 300 square foot dwellings, the first step in shrinking the mandatory 400-square foot minimum currently in place. In San Francisco, Supervisor Scott Wiener has introduced legislation to let builders make apartments that are a mere 150 square feet. (Well, technically, the whole unit would be 220 square feet, with space taken up by walls, kitchen counter, etc., as noted by SF Curbed.) The vote, scheduled for yesterday, has been pushed back to July 24th.

In San Francisco, at least, many have blamed the tech sector for the current housing situation, which Wiener called a “crisis.” In the first ’90s-era dot-com boom, the Bay Area apartment rental scene was legendary: lines around the block, ridiculous roommate questionnaires, people living in closets. (Though times have certainly changed: A man in a 1998 news story complained that studios that used to be $400-$600 were now $1,000. WE WISH.) Now, boom times are back and housing is again a total mess.

Yesterday’s New York Times story on Bravo’s new Silicon Valley reality show quoted a man saying that splitting $17,000 monthly rent among five people “is not that much money”; San Francisco rents are growing faster than anywhere else in the country (with San Jose as #2); and many have noted that housing prices rise along the shuttle bus routes for companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook, which have offices in the Valley but many employees who live in San Francisco.

But both New York officials and Wiener say that their measures are not designed for young tech workers per se: they are responding to bigger demographic changes. More people live alone and don’t need the space. “We tend to put a lot of credit or blame in the tech boom, but it’s broader,” Weiner told BuzzFeed. “Rents are through the roof and I think it’s important to developers to have the flexibility to meet our many different kinds of housing needs.” He pointed to student and senior populations as two groups who could also benefit from the bite-sized efficiencies.

As far as how this current housing nightmare compares to the ’90s boom, Weiner said he didn’t know the numbers but “the feel is the same, in some ways it’s more extreme.”

“I moved to San Francisco in 1997 and before I moved out, I was planning to take two weeks [to find a new place],” Wiener said, “Then I started going to open houses. They were just flooded. I got lucky that I had a friend in the building [where I ended up living] but it was really scary. From what I understand, that’s what’s happening now.”

Still, 150 square feet is awfully small. New tech residents may want to go a different route — perhaps a hacker hostel?

Here’s leading small apartment aficionado Patrick Kennedy walking through a shoebox dwelling.

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