Princeton planning and zoning has had unintended exclusionary outcomes, making it hard for local middle-class workers to live in town, and incentivizing car-dependency and traffic. In this series, we explore options for adding more walkable housing in Princeton to enable diversity and inclusivity, while maintaining and enhancing Princeton’s historic charm. (See other posts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
Going small is a potential answer to the idea that Princeton doesn’t have space to provide more homes for people locked out of the local real estate market. In recent years, ‘micro-apartments’ have emerged as a way to provide more affordable housing in hot real estate markets like Princeton.
The defining feature of a micro-apartment is its size: typically, ‘micro’ means less than 400 sq. ft. In New York, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg specifically changed zoning laws to allow units of this size. In Portland, OR, they are going even further, having approved units of less than 200 sq. ft.
Princeton has a dire shortage of housing. As most houses are too expensive for average workers, the majority of Princeton’s workforce drives into town every day, creating a huge amount of traffic and parking issues. Another section of Princeton’s workforce lives in appalling, over-crowded conditions in houses in and around the Witherspoon-John neighborhood. So far, Princeton has not made a serious effort to respond to these problems. Micro-apartments could enable a significant amount of housing to be added on relatively small sites, if Princeton was flexible about zoning ordinances. Thanks to their small size, a developer could potentially rent micro-units at a lower price relative to existing apartments in the town and still make a reasonable profit. Micro-apartments therefore promise reasonably-priced accommodation without requiring subsidy.
Micro-units are one potential solution to housing pressure, but they also present several challenges. Princeton currently requires 1.5 parking spaces for every new residential unit. Clearly, this is not an appropriate number for units that will often be rented by singles. Parking minimums also drive up the cost of housing by making large parts of developable sites unusable for housing. Princeton ought to be flexible about parking for developments with micro-apartments, potentially accepting 1 parking bay per unit. An even lower minimum should be acceptable at walkable sites, particularly if complemented by car-share and plenty of bike parking.
It would also be unfair to expect people to spend their entire working careers in tiny units. These units are also unreasonably small for people with children. Princeton should look to micro-apartments as a useful part of an overall strategy to bring a proper mix of housing within the reach of the many people who work in town but currently go unhoused.
Would you like to see micro-apartments in Princeton? What would be a suitable price for a 400 sq. ft studio in a walkable location around our downtown? Let us know in the comments section below!