- Associated Press - Sunday, March 16, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - The concept behind the “tiny house” trend, which transformed one Northeast D.C. alley into an exhibition of minimalism, is moving beyond the house and into the plans for many District of Columbia real estate developers.

The district will soon see what it’s like to experience tiny living in an apartment.

The term “micro-unit” is being presented at Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings and zoning hearings throughout the city. While the definition of a micro-unit varies from developer to developer, Mark Wellborn, co-founder of UrbanTurf, says the term generally applies to an apartment between 250 square feet and 375 square feet.

“Lots of people five years ago called those studio apartments, but the term ‘micro-unit’ has gotten really popular in the last three years,” Wellborn says. “Buzz is the operative word.”

The district’s changing demographics have a lot to do with the increased interest in, and building proposals for, these micro-units - and location is a major influencing factor.

Experts are taking note that young professionals want to be close to work and places of socialization, such as restaurants, bars, grocery stores, shops, parks and music venues.

“A number of our readers, we’re finding, prize location over space and don’t mind living in small spaces without a lot of stuff, as long as they’re in the neighborhood where they want to be,” Wellborn says.

That was the reason Sondra Dietz, 31, moved into a 325-square-foot apartment in the Cathedral Heights neighborhood of Northwest in 2008.

At the time, Dietz worked for a district-based public health nonprofit and attended graduate school. She didn’t want to live with anyone else, but still wanted to be in the city.

“I thought that I could do it, and with the built-in shelving and everything, it seemed like it would be able to accommodate all of my stuff,” says Dietz, who lived in the apartment for two years and paid around $1,250 a month for the space.

Dietz’s ability to find such a small apartment was rare five years ago, though.

David Versel, senior research associate at the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, says many young professionals who want to live in the city can’t afford a place that allows them to live alone, since there are not many micro-sized apartments currently on the rental market.

Traditional studios of 500 square feet to 600 square feet in high-demand areas cost around $2,000 a month. That’s why most single millennials who migrate to the district share an apartment with roommates or enter group houses.

“Young, single professionals want to live in the district in larger numbers than they have in recent memory, and at the same time . there are just no available options for people who want to live alone,” says Versel, who adds that developers are catching on to the fact that there is a whole side of the market that wants to live alone and can probably afford to do so for around $1,500 a month.

To meet that demand, developers are deciding to cut the square footage and make the units smaller and more affordable. The limited space shouldn’t be a problem for the target demographic.

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