Workforce Housing is the New Luxury Condo

Milan Apartments. Image courtesy of the Oregonian

According to the OregonianThis friday Civitas Development will break ground on the Milano, a new 60 unit apartment building, at the corner of NE 1st and Multnomah. This is notable for the fact that it is the first new housing in the Lloyd/Rose Quarter area (a part of the city that could definitely benefit from new development of any sort) in quite some time. That is not why I am writing about it. Rather, it is because it is a work force housing project with very little parking. For its 60 units it will have only 12 parking spaces for cars and 50 for bikes. It has smaller units, it is located with good transit access and is aiming at an affordable price point.  Recently there have been a number of projects that have either broken ground or are proposed that could be described the same way. It seems that the in this nether world between recession and full recovery striped down workforce housing is the new luxury condo.

Looking around the city at the development underway and the trend seems clear. In the North Pearl/Squish neighborhood between 14th and 15th on Pettygrove Street Fosler architects‘ Freedom Center 1 (horrible name by the way) is well underway. It might be the most extreme. It is a complex of three 50’x100’ building containing 150 studio apartment. The units will be 300 square feet and no parking is proposed. With such small units it is no surprise that the target market is students and other young people who do not have much money and who use the city as their living room.

Image from Fosler Architects

These two projects are not alone. Creston Homes has a number of project either underway or proposed in the same vein. Most notable they have just broke ground on a project that has generated quite a bit of controversy due to its proximity to the Hollywood Theater. That project is a 47 unit building of one and two bedroom apartments over 3,500 square feet of retail with no parking provided. The architects is the Myhre Group. They are also close to starting another apartment building in the Buckman neighborhood at the corner of SE 20th and Morrison. It is to have  71 small units ranging from 371 to 900 square feet and no on site parking. According to the Hollywood Star News back in the Hollywood neighborhood another project is being proposed at the corner of NE 41st and Tillamook possible also by Creston Homes. The proposal is for a 4 story + basement building with 58 units and no parking. Developer Mark Madden also has a project at NE 24th and Glisan that would fall into this same category. It call for 32 live/work units in a three stroy building with no parking.

Buckman Apartments. Image courtesy Myhre Group/DJC

In articles in both the DJC and the Oregonian people from Creston Homes talk about the niche they are filling for small affordable apartments. The units cater to young people who can afford to/desire to live alone but really can’t pay that much. Location is crucial both in terms of proximity to amenities and transit. They also mention the niche of small affordable infill buildings, mainly of the eastside, that are able to pencil out and seem to be fairly recession proof. They occupy small parcels, they use economical construction systems, the market they are aimed at is broad and deep, and like the Hollywood Apartments they often are small enough to slip through the permitting process without too much trouble.  I imagine that if the current economic malaise continues then we can look forward to a lot more project like these and lot fewer new South Waterfront towers.

My friend in Seattle recently started his own architecture firm and one of their first projects is congregate housing on Capitol Hill. It is 56, 200 to 300 square foor units each with its own bathroom but with kitchens shared by 7 or 8 unts. One developer up there who has been building these projects for a while copy-wrote the term “Apodments” to describe this type of building. He has done a number of project on Capitol Hill and the U District, both neighborhoods with high densities of young people with lots of things to do that do not involve sitting around the house or cooking. They rent for $500 to $600 a month and apparently he cannot build them fast enough due to their popularity. In economically constrained times is this our new reality? Or, regardless of the economy is this housing for the non-domestic and economically constrained people just a niche that needs filling and will be with us regardless of what the economy does? What do you think?

Apodments are our future?


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