Millennials are vital to an urban economy: they’re young, cheap and willing to work many of the jobs that help cities grow — medicine, tech, service, engineering. But as rents soar, that cohort is being locked out of living in many metropolises, which is bad for business. “We’re concerned about brain drain,” says Richard Taylor, head of the real estate center at Suffolk University, of possible millennial flight from Boston.
To address this trend, several North American cities have jettisoned old zoning laws, like ones requiring that new units be at least 400 sq. ft. (37 sq m), to allow smaller, cheaper microapartments, often designed to create the illusion of space. A typical studio in a San Francisco microcomplex that opened last year offers high ceilings, a retractable bed and foldaway tables — and rent under $1,600 a month. “We’re doing space plus utility plus functionality plus aesthetic inspiration,” says Patrick Kennedy, one of the developers. Projects in New York City, Boston and Seattle are following suit.
Microapartments won’t solve all urban housing issues. In fact, a Vancouver complex debuted last year to protests from advocates for more low-income housing, in whose view the $850-per-month price tag was too high. But they’re a small step in the right direction.
MORE: Rental Nation