D.C.’s apartment trend tends toward ‘micro’

More developers are interested in building micro-units for D.C.\'s millennial population. (Courtesy Perkins Eastman-DC)
'Micro-unit' is D.C.'s new real estate buzz word

Rachel Nania | November 15, 2014 1:38 am

WASHINGTON — The concept behind the “tiny house” trend, which transformed one Northeast D.C. alley into an exhibition of minimalism, is moving beyond the house and into the plans for many District real estate developers.

D.C. will soon see what it’s like to experience tiny living in an apartment.

The term “micro-unit” is being presented at Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings and zoning hearings throughout the city. While the definition of a micro-unit varies from developer to developer, Mark Wellborn, co-founder of UrbanTurf, says the term generally applies to an apartment between 250 square feet and 375 square feet.

“Lots of people five years ago called those studio apartments, but the term ‘micro-unit’ has gotten really popular in the last three years,” Wellborn says. “Buzz is the operative word.”

D.C.’s changing demographics have a lot to do with the increased interest in, and building proposals for, these micro-units — and location is a major influencing factor.

Experts are taking note that young professionals want to be close to work and places of socialization, such as restaurants, bars, grocery stores, shops, parks and music venues.

“A number of our readers, we’re finding, prize location over space and don’t mind living in small spaces without a lot of stuff, as long as they’re in the neighborhood where they want to be,” Wellborn says.


This floor plan is for a micro-unit planned for The Wharf. (Courtesy Perkins Eastman-DC)

That was the reason Sondra Dietz, 31, moved into a 325-square-foot apartment in the Cathedral Heights neighborhood of Northwest, D.C. in 2008.

At the time, Dietz worked for a D.C.-based public health nonprofit and attended graduate school. She didn’t want to live with anyone else, but still wanted to be in the city.

“I thought that I could do it, and with the built-in shelving and everything, it seemed like it would be able to accommodate all of my stuff,” says Dietz, who lived in the apartment for two years and paid around $1,250 a month for the space.

Dietz’s ability to find such a small apartment was rare five years ago, though.

David Versel, senior research associate at the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, says many young professionals who want to live in the city can’t afford a place that allows them to live alone, since there are not many micro-sized apartments currently on the rental market.


Micro-units are typically between 250 and 375 square feet. (Courtesy Perkins Eastman-DC)

Traditional studios of 500 square feet to 600 square feet in high-demand areas cost around $2,000 a month. That’s why most single millennials who migrate to the District share an apartment with roommates or enter group houses.

“Young, single professionals want to live in the District in larger numbers than they have in recent memory, and at the same time

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