Saturday, June 11, 2016

Tiny Home Test Drive

Last week, the first tenants moved into the city’s first micro apartment development on East 27th Street. I did, too, for one night.

Tucked into a New York City Housing Authority site, on a spot between First and Second Avenues that was once a parking lot, and flanked by linden and honeylocust trees and a small plaza lined with park benches, the nine-story building, with 55 apartments between 260 and 360 square feet, is an elegant design by nArchitects, and built by Monadnock Development and the Lower East Side People’s Mutual Housing Association.

It’s also adorable, a compressed vision of the city in both ethos and mien. Eric Bunge and Mimi Hoang, nArchitects’ founding principals, imagined it as four slender stepped towers, like a mini skyline.

On that hot evening, the benches outside were full of kibitzing men of a certain age; the playground across Mount Carmel Place, the two-block street that bisects the site, had largely emptied out but for a few stragglers. Knots of pedestrians wafted by. The ghost of Jane Jacobs hovered.

Carmel Place, formerly known as My Micro NY, was the winner of the small space/tiny home competition sponsored by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development in 2013. For the last three years, its flourishes and features — the modular units prefabricated in a factory in the old Brooklyn Navy Yard and stacked like Legos on site; its capacious common areas and windowed hallways; the humane and lovely elements of the apartments, like 8-foot windows and nearly 10-foot ceilings — have been on display, at first in renderings, and finally, in a model apartment that was tricked out last winter.

For housing advocates, the architectural community and urban policy makers, the building is a trial balloon for a medley of themes: the changing demographic of a city with inadequate housing (according to the NYU Furman Center, a third of the city’s households are single people); a culture eager to make a smaller environmental footprint by paring down belongings and sharing resources; and what has become a unicorn in this city, affordable housing.

Carmel Place is no affordable housing utopia, but it’s a start. While the lion’s share — 32 — of the units are market rate, with monthly rents ranging from $2,446 to $3,195, eight have been set aside for formerly homeless veterans, and 14 units are designated affordable, with monthly rents from $914 to $1,873, and for which 60,000 people applied in a lottery. One apartment has been set aside for the superintendent. Fifty percent of the building is already leased.

It’s a nice place for a sleepover. The 302-square-foot unit I stayed in rents for $2,670 a month, furnished, which includes convertible and small-space objects from Resource Furniture. That company’s sofa-wall bed combination called Penelope (my destiny?), made in Italy by Clei, is the linchpin of the space: a Murphy-style bed, surrounded by deep cabinets, that unfolds over a diminutive charcoal-gray sofa. (...)

Perhaps this apartment is too good, too soft, for the demographic it purports to address. How will they mature in a friction-free environment? It irritated me that a 25-year-old would soon be lolling in my bed, or in the lounge chairs on the roof deck, after having fired up the commercial grill there, and after a long day of networking in some shared work space, or returning home from a day’s surfing in the Rockaways, tucking his surfboard into the space Mr. Bunge and Ms. Hoang designed for it.

Carmel Place’s rent includes not just internet and Wi-Fi, but a weekly tidying service and a monthly deep clean, along with dog walking, dry cleaning pickup and any number of customized errands through an app called Hello Alfred, all organized by Ollie.

Ms. Schmidt said her company is about to announce more building alliances that will allow Carmel Place residents to avail themselves of more and more thermal pools, yoga studios and barbecue pits all over town. “You will meet with your home manager to say what you want for your home experience,” Ms. Schmidt said. “Maybe you want your slippers by the door, or your towels folded a certain way.”

by Penelope Greene, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Tony Cenicola/The New York Times