Tiny Tuesday: Rethinking the Building Code

One of the greatest barriers to living in a small space, whether a micro-apartment or a standalone tiny house, is that it’s often illegal. In a famous example, authorities evicted professional organizer Felice Cohen from her 90-square-foot Upper West Side apartment shortly after her tour of it became an internet sensation. Minimum-size rules exist to protect occupants’ health, but as evidence mounts that small living is not only viable but a smart use of resources, big cities are giving their building codes a fresh look.

On the microhousing front, construction is underway on the winner of New York’s adAPT NYC contest. The winner received an exemption to build these prefab apartments smaller than the city’s 400-square-foot minimum. As this review on lifeedited shows, the units’ functional and beautiful layout belies their diminutive size. I’m disappointed with the high rents, other than 14 rate-adjusted apartments (which received 60,000 applications). But this project paves the way for others like it, and perhaps their increased density will help the supply of Manhattan housing catch up with demand.

On the standalone side, the Denver Housing Authority (DHA) seeks alternative housing concepts including outdoor common spaces and urban gardening. When DHA opened a public park to housing experiments, a group that advocates housing the homeless used the opportunity to set up tiny houses and propose a permanent community there. This Denver Post article does a nice job of showing the difference between needs of the poor/homeless and real-estate reality. I’m surprised there’s no mention of micro-apartments, which make more sense from a density perspective in an urban environment, but the communal space does extend occupants’ living rooms reducing the private space needs of each house. It sounds like DHA is willing to entertain policy discussions on the concept.

Giving Tuesday is a week from today. Instead of spending your money on material goods during post-Thanksgiving sales, you can actually give thanks by donating to a cause you admire. I’ll provide some suggestions next week!

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