BURLINGTON, Vt. — The greater Burlington housing industry shrinks as it expands: Pint-sized apartments, developers say, are renting like hotcakes.
“These are starter-dwellings for waiters, waitresses; people in retail and hospitality,” said Jacob Hinsdale of Burlington-based Hinsdale Properties earlier this week.
“They’re for people who might not want to take out a big loan for a house, who might not want a second car,” he added. “They’re mobile, young and willing to be efficient in their use of space.”
Upper-case “Affordable” housing in Vermont, subsidized through government and nonprofit agencies, is mainly available to low-income families, disabled people and the elderly — and rents are pegged to a percentage of income. Market-rate housing that is within a walk or transit commute has become too pricey for many young, hourly-wage workers in the area, said Benjamin Avery, vice president of development at South Burlington-based BlackRock Construction.
The demand for so-called “workforce housing” has spurred Blackrock to propose a cluster of 174 studio and 1-bedroom apartments near Five Corners in Essex Junction.
“Our concepts for workforce housing is to create a product that targets a price-point of under $1,000 per month, inclusive of all utilities except phone and cable,” Avery said.
The Five Corners project, still under review, would include about 170 subsidized, Affordable Housing units.
Meanwhile, Hinsdale is preparing to break ground on an apartment building in Essex Junction that will house 28, one-bedroom units measuring between 600 and 750 square feet.
The boom in down-sized lodging got a further boost earlier this month with South Burlington’s approval of 47 “micro-apartments” proposed for Shelburne Road.
“At the end of the day, how much space do you really need, if you’re going to stay someplace for six months, or even one or two years?” asked Joe Larkin, the local developer.
His guess: 400 square feet will do just fine for a studio; 550 square feet does the trick for a single-bedroom unit.
To reach those numbers, Larkin had earlier parked a full-scale mock-up of a studio apartment in the lobby of the South Burlington Smart Suites Hotel, which he also owns.
Larkin led informal show-and-tell tours. He polled tenants at his other rental properties.
“What we learned is there’s a very strong demand for smaller units,” Larkin said. He has yet to announce pricing for the micros.
Larkin’s $3.5 million project would replace a parking lot that sits across Fayette Road from Palace 9 Cinemas.
The micro-apartments will sit a slightly longer a stone’s throw from his larger, Larkin Terrace apartments-and-commercial-space project on Shelburne Road, currently under construction.
To make way for the new building, last summer Larkin demolished an aging, 60-unit extended-stay hotel that he said was beyond rehabilitation.
His new micro-apartments, he said, will pick up some of that slack.
“There are a lot of jobs up and down Shelburne Road, and we know there’s an unmet need for lowercase ‘affordable’ housing here,” he said. “We want to be part of the solution to that.”
Small apartments often cost more per square foot to build — because they typically require the same fixtures, plumbing and wiring of a more spacious unit, said Burlington developer Hinsdale said.
He and other builders have found economies of scale, however. Apartments that share heating and hot water sources can be built and operated more cheaply than those with individual systems, partly because Efficiency Vermont offers incentives on a per-unit basis, Hinsdale added.
Gabriel Handy, who like Hinsdale is cleared this year to build apartments in Essex Junction, will add 43 single-bedroom units to the village. Rent on the 700-square-foot apartments be $950 per month, Handy has said.
Tracy Robar, a rental agent for Essex-based Handy, said she would have no trouble finding tenants: “People aren’t as concerned about the amount of space as they are about the quality of the space.”
Another possible force that’s driving folks to seek out smaller, well-located digs: Young people seem less willing these days to put up with roommates, said Erik Hoekstra, managing partner at Burlington-based Redstone.
Studios at Redstone’s soon-to-open apartment building at Pine Street and Flynn Avenue measure 360 square feet — “and the response from potential tenants has been strong,” Hoekstra said.
“People seem to be more focused on location and other factors than having a huge home these days,” he continued. “And people get pretty creative with how they use a small apartment.”
Furthermore, Hoekstra says, downsizing is a healthy trend: “a very positive thing for our human impact on the environment.”
Information from: The Burlington Free Press, http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com