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How small is too small?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 16, 2012 07:29 AM

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Here's one trend we may be seeing more of: studio apartments the size of a dorm room.

With hopes of encouraging more low-cost housing for singles of all ages, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is seeking bids from developers to turn an empty lot into a beehive of studio apartments, each no larger than 300 square feet, according to this AP piece.

It's just enough room for a bathroom, a kitchenette and a small living area just large enough for a foldout bed, the story notes.

In Boston, Mayor Thomas M. Menino is pushing for some micro units of his own, this one aimed at attracting entrepreneurs to the waterfront.

Behind the push is increasing demand/need for housing designed for singles, whether young, old or in the middle.

Here are couple eye-opening stats from the AP story:

  • Nearly a third of the country, 27 percent, is now living alone;
  • On Manhattan, 76 percent of the people on the island are either living alone or with just one other person, while just under half live alone.

Still, there are some significant differences in the Boston version. Up to 375 square feet, the micro units Boston officials are looking at are slightly larger than what are being planned in the Big Apple. And, with initial talk of rents up to $1,500, they don't come cheap.

However, that both mayors are thinking small is great - that is where the housing market needs to head, especially in increasingly jam-packed Greater Boston.

In some ways, this is a back to the future trend. We are basically having to reinvent forms of housing lost amid the rollout of the suburbs starting in the 1950s, all built around the idea of the nuclear family.

And while were at it, why just focus on studio apartments? What about boarding houses?

Back in the 1900s, if you were single, the boarding house provided a low cost place to live, along with some meals and companionship.

A young engineer, my grandfather Benedict Van Voorhis got off the train in Leominster circa 1910 determined to make his way in the new plastics industry.

Like any young single guy of that era, he rented a room at a boarding house in town run by an older woman with the help of her daughter, a young Simmons student with a knack for business named Dorothy Whittier.

The two fell in love and the rest is history.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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