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Micro living, macro cost?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 21, 2013 07:27 AM

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Design wonks and urban planning types want to flood Boston and other cities with "micro units" in hopes of keeping young techies and others from fleeing to cheaper and sunnier locales.

It's a noble idea certainly - if I were in my twenties again, this model micro unit, on display this week at the Boston Society of Architects, would certainly do it for me. Especially if it were anywhere near downtown Boston.

Yet how many potential renters have the kind of cash to rent these units, whether they are 28 or 48?

So far, developers of these studio-sized living spaces are delivering on the promise of cool designs, but not on affordable prices.

A beautiful Fort Point warehouse converted to residential living, Factory63 on at 63 Melcher St. features a bevy of "innovation" units priced at about $1,700 a month.

Square footage wasn't available - units look to be in the 300 to 400 square foot range.

Meanwhile, the apartment high-rise under construction at the old Pier 4 site, a short walk away on the waterfront next to Fan Pier, will include another 50 tiny innovation units.

The rent for one of these Pier 4 micro units has yet to be set, but even initial estimates of $1,500 a month should raise alarm bells, Renee Loth argues. She points out to afford $1,500 a month, you need to be pulling down $72,000 a year - no small feat for a twenty-something in today's anemic economy.

Of course, $1,500 looks like a bargain compared to the $1,700 - actually, to be fully accurate $1,699 - that is the minimum price for innovation units and other apartments on Melcher street.

That's a lot to pay given you can get a townhouse in Quincy for that price and still be within a 10 or 15 minute Red Line commute from downtown Boston.

Here's what I fear: Instead of creating more affordable options for young professionals, the new micro units will simply create a new and overpriced niche in the housing market.

After all, why build a 600 square foot apartment if you can charge the same for a hip looking unit half the size?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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