ULI New York Blog

Making Room: Q&A with Sarah Watson, Deputy Director of Citizens Housing & Planning Council

After ULI New York’s tour of the Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, we caught up with Sarah Watson from the Citizens Housing & Planning Council (CHPC) to answer some questions about the exhibit, which will be on display at the museum through September 15th.

What are the key demographic trends driving the need for alternative housing options such as micro-units in New York City?
First, New York City is growing rapidly. We’re expecting an additional 600,000 residents by 2030, yet we have limited land, and often a resistance to taller buildings. So we need new methods to accommodate this extra density in safe ways. Second, almost half of all New Yorkers are single. We need more legal housing options to accommodate this huge proportion of the population. CHPC’s Making Room initiative proposes micro-units as one option for this but also shared housing options for both roommates and extended families.

What are some of the zoning and regulatory issues currently impeding micro-unit development?
There is currently a minimum unit size in many areas of the city of 400 square feet. There are also limits on the number of apartments you are allowed to fit into a building of a certain size which encourages the development of larger units.

What are some of the more forward thinking approaches to housing proposed by architects and designers as part of the Making Room exhibit?
As well as a full-size 325 square feet micro-unit built in the exhibition, Making Room features legal shared housing options for unrelated adults and accessory units to make a single family home more flexible for extended families or additional renters. We have a model that re-imagines the SRO (single room occupancy) for the 21st century. We have a bungalow in Queens with 6 ‘barnacle-like’ housing units added on to it. We have a proposal that transforms certain floors of a 1970s office building into residential areas with small urban cabins for single adults to rent. We also have a number of projects that are already built in other cities in the US and around the world. We include some very small studios in construction in downtown Providence, shared housing in San Diego, compact homes in Tokyo, and many others.

How likely is there to be a rezoning that would allow for the development of micro-units in the near future?
The adAPT micro-housing pilot is on a piece of city-owned land so that the Mayor can waive certain elements of the Zoning Resolution to test these ideas in the marketplace. For more substantial changes the next administration will need to continue this direction for zoning reform. CHPC will continue to promote these new ideas across the political spectrum.

Sarah Watson is the Deputy Director of Citizens Housing & Planning Council. Originally from London, Sarah holds an MSc in Housing and Regeneration Policy from the London School of Economics and worked in the development and management of affordable housing. For CHPC, Sarah is the author and manager of CHPC’s Making Room project; an initiative that brings together housing and demographic research, design proposals, and pragmatic policy recommendations to expand housing options in New York City to meet the needs of our diverse and growing population.

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