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Micro-Apartments: Making NW Portland Too Dense or More Sustainable?

A Snohomish, WA developer has started construction in NW Portland of a micro- apartment building. The site of a single family home at 2250 NW Thurman St will soon host 56 apartments. These units start at less than 200 square feet each and contain a living area, bathroom, and a shared kitchen down the hall. A second location in the Hollywood District in NE Portland is also being pursued.

One attraction of micro – apartments is their ability to offer rent at a lower price point than anyone else on the market. According to Multifamily NW rents have climbed 6-7 percent per year since 2010 in Portland. On average a studio apartment now costs $827 per month, unless you are in Northwest Portland, where studios rent above $1,000 per month. Footprint Investments, who have built micro-apartments in Seattle, claims that they are adding affordable options to expensive rental markets. Jim Potter, founder of Footprint Investments, notes that their apartments will rent for about 60 percent of the prevailing rent for new apartments in the area. “We’re at a price point that no one else is delivering,” Potter said. “It’s not for everyone, but it’s a choice, and we like offering choices.”

Footprint’s second proposed project in NE Portland is nearly identical to the one on NW Thurman St. Both buildings would have 56 units and be four stories tall (plus a level below ground), all on lots formerly occupied by one single family home. This is not the first micro – housing option that has come to Portland. ekoHaus, located in the Pearl District, includes 150 studio apartments that average less than 300 square feet. An issue has arisen with ekoHaus, however, due to the building’s lack of on-site parking – an issue that Footprint faces as well. Neighbors are concerned that the high density buildings contribute to crowding problems that already exist in these dense neighborhoods. Developers, along with housing and transportation advocates, argue that parking requirements force monthly rents higher and hurt urban density goals. In response, the Portland City Council modified the parking requirement for apartment buildings 30 units or larger. These minimum parking requirements do not apply to micro-apartments because their shared kitchens qualify them as group-living situations, much like dormitories or communes. Parking and auto congestion are already major issues in the areas of both Footprint buildings. Footprint’s Potter says that they have chosen sites close to public transportation and will build bicycle parking rooms to reduce the need for their residents to own cars. BikePortland apparently agrees with this position based on their blog post, which can be read here.