To Shrink Rents, S.F. Considers Shrinking Apartments Many single people find it nearly impossible to find an affordable apartment in San Francisco. In an effort to cut rents, city supervisors are weighing a proposal to reduce the minimum allowed size for a studio apartment to 220 square feet — not much bigger than a large parking space.
NPR logo

To Shrink Rents, S.F. Considers Shrinking Apartments

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
To Shrink Rents, S.F. Considers Shrinking Apartments

To Shrink Rents, S.F. Considers Shrinking Apartments

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Apartments in pricey crowded San Francisco could soon go micro. A proposed building code change would allow the minimum size of a studio unit to shrink down to just 220 square feet. That includes a bathroom, kitchen and closet. From member station KQED in San Francisco, Stephanie Martin reports that fans of the idea are willing to sacrifice a little space if it means paying less in the expensive Bay Area.

STEPHANIE MARTIN, BYLINE: In most large cities like, say, Dallas, Phoenix, even parts of Chicago, $800 a month is enough for a clean, one-bedroom apartment, decked out with a living room, a washer and dryer, maybe even a pool in a larger complex. But if you're single and want to live on your own in San Francisco, no deal. The region's resurgent high-tech industry is luring in so many well-educated, well-paid workers right now, the average rent for a studio is now around $2,000.

ANDY HUANG: Yeah, this is the apartment.

MARTIN: Thirty-one-year-old Andy Huang moved here from New York City a couple of months ago, and though he has a good job in tech, he's living with three roommates in a two-bedroom apartment.

HUANG: Hey, Leo. Hi.

MARTIN: His roommate, Leo, lives in what was probably once a pantry. The other two roommates have the real bedrooms. And once upon a time, Huang's room was a living room.

HUANG: So as you can see, there's no closet.


MARTIN: Clothes hang on a set of parallel bars in the corner. Contact lens cases, deodorant and other toiletries adorn the fireplace mantel. There's no sofa, no desk. A laptop sits on the bed. He's paying $800 month.

HUANG: This is definitely not for everyone. I think people would be frustrated by the fact that this room has no closet, and there's four guys sharing a bathroom.

SCOTT WIENER: We have a housing affordability crisis in San Francisco. Rents are through the roof.

MARTIN: City supervisor Scott Wiener authored the micro apartment proposal for people in Huang's situation. He says he wants to help people who would prefer their own space but can't afford the city's sky-high rents.

WIENER: And if we can give them an option that's smaller for 12 or 14, $1,500, that's a good thing.

MARTIN: Shoebox apartments are commonplace in large international cities like Tokyo and Paris. Berkeley-based architect Patrick Kennedy is convinced the smaller spaces will soon catch on in San Francisco. He points to other U.S. cities now trying them on for size, like Boston and New York, where a pilot program recently launched. Well, this doesn't seem that small.

PATRICK KENNEDY: No. In fact, it will seem bigger, believe it or not, once it has furnishings.

MARTIN: Kennedy shows me one of about two dozen apartments he's building close to downtown.

KENNEDY: You know, it's like the Volkswagen or the, you know, Fiat Cinque Terre, I mean, it's a tiny car or the smart car. People are skeptical when it's first introduced, but soon, it's embraced.

MARTIN: This unit he's showing me today is just a tad over the smallest legal size in San Francisco - 290 square feet. But Kennedy says he could easily go smaller if city leaders approve the micro unit ordinance going up for a vote next month. Packing in a lot is his specialty.

KENNEDY: We have a window seat with a table that goes up over there in the corner. We have a dining room table that converts to a Murphy bed over here. We're going to have a loveseat there, a desk, flat-screen TV over there.

MARTIN: And this is a - this looks like a, oh, dishwasher. OK.

KENNEDY: Yeah, dishwasher, yeah.

MARTIN: Some critics worry that if super-small units become too popular, San Francisco will go the way of Singapore, which is now having to limit micro-unit construction to reduce overcrowding and to make more space for families. For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Martin in San Francisco.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.