Exploitation or Affordable Option? Melbourne Debates Micro Apartments

The increasing scarcity of affordable accommodation in large cities has seen the rise of the 'micro apartment'. Taking its lead from studios but on a much smaller scale, this article questions the appeal of living in a space of less than 15m2.
August 23, 2013, 10am PDT | Kat Martindale
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The quality of life experienced by residents living in an apartment no larger than a car parking space, often with no direct sunlight, is under review by the council of the Australian city of Melbourne. The international trend of building 'micro apartments' has seen average floor spaces of less than 15 m2, including a bathroom and kitchenette, sell for between A$115,000 to A$165,000. 

In a city that has become increasingly expensive, research conducted by Oliver Hume Real Estate suggests that the average floor space of a one bedroom apartment in the inner suburbs of the Victorian city has decreased from 52 to 44 square metres in the last five years.  Melbourne Council will consider whether similar regulations adopted by the city authorities of Sydney, Adelaide and London would be appropriate.

The article cites the example of a 37 year old woman working as a chef in Southgate on Melbourne's Southbank and lives a short walk away on Flinders Street in an apartment that is 11.2 m2.  Josephine Lee remarked that it was not much smaller than her former home in Malaysia and would be ''happy here for at least another year.'' She pays A$300 a week.

This ''rampant exploitation of renters'', suggests Michael Buxton, Professor of Planning at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, needs to be addressed with minimum size standards for new developments. Buxton notes that most are purchased as buy-to-let units, rented to international students and city workers and rarely have direct sunlight, parking spaces or other amenities common in apartment buildings.

Tony De Domenico, CEO of the Urban Development Institute of Australia, stated that as more affordable units were needed in the City, ''trying to interfere with the market by having a minimum size" would be "very dangerous" adding that if "people are prepared to live in smaller apartments, and most are not, why should they have to pay double for space they don't need?'' 

Much the same response has been garnered from the British government who have rejected calls for national minimum standards as advocated by the Royal Institute of British Architects in their campaign Homewise.

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Published on Monday, August 19, 2013 in Sydney Morning Herald
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