Have you ever kept your sweaters in an oven? Or your books in the microwave? This week, San Francisco supervisors may say “yes” to developers who want to build apartments as small as 220 square feet. We discuss the prospect of these tiny units coming on the market, and talk to home design gurus about how to live well in a small space.

Tiny Apartment Resources

Tiny Apartment Tour



Scott Wiener, San Francisco supervisor for District 8
Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, founder of ApartmentTherapy.com and author of "Apartment Therapy's Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces"
Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco
Patrick Kennedy, owner of Panoramic Interests
Miranda Jones, style editor for Sunset magazine

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Thank you thank you thank you for doing this show.

    We (two parents one child) have never in forty years lived in a place bigger than 500 sq ft and a few were indeed 200 sq ft in size. One had a great murphy bed and a small well laid out kitchen. If a space is well laid out with a window that gets great light, its heaven.

    You also discover what you need, and ditch ‘stuff’ and find out that you have more money, spend less time cleaning and (don’t laugh) lose weight because you eat healthier and are outside more, and a small place requires a smaller body.

    Having built in’s also helps as far as furniture and clutter. Like a bench seat in the kitchen where you can store items you need but don’t use daily. Or a large ottoman that also has storage for linens or even out of season clothes. Learning that some items can have multiple uses also helps.

    And your carbon foot print is much much smaller!

  • Fred

    This is an important topic. Since we can’t really create new cities where the jobs and culture are, we’ll have to pack more people into existing cities and that means smaller condos and yes, smaller rental apartments too. And yet focusing on new housing is merely a band-aid solution.

    What is really needed is to recognize that many residential buildings in SF are low density e.g. homes in Sunset with just 1 elderly person living in them. In my opinion such buildings, which because of their design or owner’s predilections only accommodate 1 or 2 people, should be re-purposed, razed and/or replaced with ones that accept more.

    There is this only this tiny problem of private property. In wartime, rapid changes to fix practical problems are easy. Maybe SF (and NYC) need to recognize that in a real sense, the housing crisis is a war: Between politically connected speculators and society.

    Parasitic speculators in the housing market and elsewhere (patent trolls) are ruining our society’s chances of competing in the world, and they are trying to siphon off every bit of new wealth that is created by people who do actual work rather than scheming.

  • jennifer fieber

    San Francisco needs to build the affordable family housing they promised us rather than cater to reverse-commuters and new Pier-a-terre owners who contribute little to the community other than some taxes. We all know who they are designing these Ikea inspired cubes for no matter how much they protest. The price per square foot makes it no bargain. I keep hearing Superviser Weiner saying as roommates move into these units more apartments will open up for families. I guess that’s the trickle sideways approach? This makes no sense, if you lose a roommate, you replace them with a similar person from the same socio-economic background as the household. Low & middle income families are not going suddenly going to be invited in. I have no objection to small spaces that are actually intended as affordable housing, but we should not be lying to ourselves that this will help drive rent prices down.

    • AndrewW

      Totally agree. Well said. These units, as currently planned, will drive prices up. And you’re right, that roommate replacement argument doesn’t add up at all.

  • Kim

    no matter the size of the apartment, they will still be unaffordable here. i’ve lived in a 100 sq. ft. apartment and it was still $1200. maybe the small apartments need to come with rent control…..

    • Ryan

      I wonder what the minimum wage is to afford a $1200 apartment.

      Suppose one has health care through work (not a guarantee), and food is $300 per month, and utilities are $200 per month (including cable), $300 for upkeep and random stuff like “living in the city”, and there is no car: That’s $2000 per month, times 12 months, divide by 2000 hours per year. That’s
      $12 per hour after taxes, or maybe $18 per hour before taxes, or $36k per year.

      However that the minimum: There’s no saving, no future at $36k.

      If you have to buy your own health insurance, maybe $50k will do it.

      • AndrewW

        That’s a great point about incomes. Because ostensibly these are being presented as “starter” homes for many residents, which implies eventually residents will save enough to move up to larger units. So add in the ability to save enough $ to eventually afford something larger, and the needed income level goes upward of $50k which puts these in the realm of well paid corporate workers.

        • Sarah

          My studio is just a bit more and believe me I do not have the $$$ to play like some of my friends do. I do have a car, but I bike a lot and a budget. And I and saving little by little.

          That said, I have friends who live in dodgier areas, share houses in the city…those who run up credit cards…

          Affordable is $1000 apartment in decent area. But I know I’m dreaming or moving to Ohio.

    • Diane

      Constructing such a limited amount of micro apartments, as is currently being proposed will have no impact on the housing problem. If there were enough micro apartments to saturate the market, we would begin to see housing costs decline. “Rent control” helps some people who are living here avoid being forced to leave, but does nothing to help people who are starting out.

  • Scott Simono

    Its incredibly insulting to hear all single people in this city dismissed as well off tech workers. We are not, and many of us also struggle to make ends meet in the city we call home. Low income single people get very little if any help and/or consideration when it comes to housing and most other policy decisions in this city and in the country. Single people don’t get tax breaks or subsidies, rarely do they get food stamps or government housing, basically we are ignored until we become homeless.

    • Fred

      You’d get more help if you renounced your citizenship and became an illegal immigrant. You might need to adopt a foreign accent though.

  • AndrewW

    The basic underpinning of this entire premise has a “Let Them Eat Cake” tone to it. Rather than seriously addressing the need for affordable, livable spaces, developers want to get the biggest bang for their buck. That’s really what this is about, nothing more. Charging $1200-$1500 for these units is criminal. And, regardless of size, creating a new “layer” of starter housing that is NOT rent controlled, will only serve to aggressively push the other levels of housing up, fairly quickly. It’s amazing that we’re being sold on the idea that these units will bring down rents. They will do the exact opposite, all while maximizing the profits for developers and owners. This is not progress.

  • Stella

    If someone wants to live in a small space is fine. The tight housing market is not due to commuting tech workers, it’s supply and market demand. People want to live in the city, demand is high with limited inventory, so costs are driven up.
    The notion of “affordable housing” is what gets us in this issue of high property costs/rents because it manipulates prices in the market. When you’re selling/renting units below market prices, the costs/revenues have to be made up, and it’s done by compensation, charging above the true market for the other properties/rents, including compensating for Prop 13 low tax properties.
    I think it’s a certain type of person to live in a small space, I did it for 4 years in college and you need to be neat and concise.

  • Diane

    I was surprised to hear that the minimum sized apt is currently set at 290 square feet. I’ve lived in an old Nob Hill studio smaller than that for 13 years (and it’s one of the biggest units in a bldg with 25 studios.) I would welcome more micro apartments in this neighbourhood. I like the culture that exists in a dense city.The city should think about the impact of that kind of density; needs for mass transit, public health etc. For example the densest areas of SF are already suffering an epidemic of revolving bedbugs. I think that bldgs with micro apartments should be required to have on site laundry to help mitigate this.

  • Lance

    This sounds very much like Japan city markets, and SF is changing to support such a market. Though 110sq ft is the average there. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but it seems very contradictory to want a family oriented city when these types of spaces do not support such a life.

  • sheryl

    Life Edited micro apartment project in NYC

    fine art in micro apartment design, check it out, a must see

  • If the main target market for these apartments is the “tech worker” who commutes to the Silicon Valley, the prices will NOT be $1,600 a month or less. Just like every other rental targeted to tech workers, it will end up costing as much as people will pay.

  • Heather

    When you have a kitchen the size of ship galley – get rid of 36″ stove and get induction “hot plates”, rice cooker and microwave. Also there are some pretty slim sized and energy efficient Euro fridges w/ freezer at the bottom. Ya gotta research because appliances are made for mega American kitchens.

    • AndrewW

      That’s got to be handled smartly by developers though. Renters don’t get any options on the major appliances.

  • Andrew from Woodland

    Plenty of empty micro apts on Alcatraz!

  • Vicky Chang

    That video above is filmed with a fisheye or W-I-D-E angle lens – why distort reality, unless you’re trying to mislead? This video proposes to describe small living accurately, yet lies to the viewer.

  • Nadiyah Taylor

    There has been a lot of mentioning of built ins, but as a long time renter you usually cannot install built ins. Is the assumption that these micro apartments will come with these amenities?

  • Worblehat

    Small apartments are common in places like Tokyo. People entertain out of the home. Europeans do that as well. In SF, young people can move into them and do their socializing in cafes. For many people, this is not a lifetime commitment, but something they live in at that particular time in their lives.

    • Sarah

      Indeed! Or many share.

  • Claudia

    What about the cost of this functional furniture? It’s usually more expensive. Also, it’s San Francisco, for emergency planning they tell you not to stack storage vertically because things can fall in a quake.

  • Marion

    We are a large family in a small space – 2 parents, 3 university students living at home and 1 high school student. I buy small appliances, more like a European size. Books come in and go out. We keep many but not all, and have learned these aren’t permanent possessions anymore. I have given them to the high school and for library sales. Furniture is flexible, since our needs change over time. Built-ins are wonderful but more expensive. Pieces of storage furniture can always be resold on Craigslist or other sites, and sometimes we give them away. Ikea is a great source for flexible pieces that can be stored and moved easily, although they are not always the sturdiest. Identically sized boxes are best for storage – folding file boxes from the office store which can be assembled and flattened as needed. I buy thin towels instead of thick, to fit the linen closet. Everyone has headphones, so that in a small space we can listen to music or the television and not disturb others doing homework. I don’t have more pots and pans than we need, and we need to weed the whole place on a regular basis. It would help if we were tidy!

  • Sarah

    I currently live in 200 sq ft apartment with good lighting, in a nice area in the south bay, allows small pets and I love it. It does come with a rather high price tag, unfortunately. I love the simplicity and the lack of stuff; and that my dining room table now doubles as my desk 😉

    I must comment however, that our culture is continually moving away from valuing community and seemingly more and more disconnected.

    • Worblehat

      But that does not have anything to do with the size of our dwellings. If anything, living in a more densely populated community forces us to interact with others.

      • Sarah

        I don’t know; I wonder if it does, that’s all. so many people in SF live alone. I wonder how many are lonely…
        Maybe smaller is better or more people lived together instead of using so much of there resources for rent and or basic needs.

  • New York and other cities had small units at a reasonable rent until the 80’s. They were called “SRO’s” or single resident occupancies, and they were what very low-income people lived in, independently, before these buildings were bought by speculators and turned into co-ops or condos. That, among other policies, is what contributed to the homeless problem in NY and perhaps in SF (I wasn’t here at the time.) Before we start building small units, we need to think about who they will be for, who needs housing and what rent (subsidized or not) should be charged. This should not be driven by speculation.

  • Small apartments are a good idea. San Francisco has so little land area it isn’t in the best position to provide housing for families. Every city can’t necessarily cater to families even though, as some of the guests said, more options for single people can take some pressure off of multi bedroom apartments possibly freeing up more space for some families. As for one’s book collection. These days, people can use things like the Kindle and the Ipad for things like books and records. Technology is trending toward allowing people to still live well in less space.

  • Dennis Haas

    I listened with interest, waiting to hear someone mention the biggest issue (more important to me than cost; storage, …) with small living spaces: neighborly noise pollution and the inability to escape it. Until an inexpensive and robust sound wave deadening system is invented, I doubt the masses will adopt mini dwellings.

  • Suzi R.

    What’s the big deal? People all over the world live in spaces as small or smaller very comfortably. I’ve always thought I could live in my bedroom (albeit a large one) just fine. I’d give it a go for sure if I wasn’t a parent.

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