Ah, the joys of city living! The wide, picturesque boulevards, the endless potpourri of arts, music, and culture housed in stately museums and concert halls … the night life! The sheer convenience of everything! Who would want to live in a country cottage or rural chateau when one can have all the world at one’s fingertips in a bustling metropolis? And yet, the urban life is not without its drawbacks.
The sheer number of people yearning to occupy the same space makes putting a roof over one’s head an expensive proposition. When space is at a premium, rents go up, and all but the wealthiest individuals are forced ever outward into the squalid wasteland of suburbia.
City governments have attempted to address this problem in a number of ways. Rent control, project housing, and other mandated efforts to keep rents down have, however, been pretty decisive failures. They’ve inhibited the housing market from properly functioning and created mini-ghettos where crime and vandalism flourish. But where government planning fails, private ingenuity succeeds: The microhousing industry is steadily solving many of the problems of urban living.
What is microhousing? I’m so glad you asked. Microhousing is a concept that sprung up a few years ago, in which very small structures are built in the heart of big cities for a fraction of the cost of traditional houses and apartments. They offer convenient and relatively affordable options for students, young people just starting out, or more established residents who wish to simplify. Microhousing installations have cropped up in most of the country’s largest, most expensive cities, including Washington, D.C., Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, and, of course, New York City.
There are many reasons why the option is attractive. It’s more affordable, you don’t have to live with roommates, and you can be closer to the action of the city center. It’s also appealing to people who want to live simply, be more environmentally friendly, and, paradoxically, live more communally. Many of these structures have common living areas, and the fact that the home is so small means that residents are more likely to reserve it for solely sleeping purposes — spending more time out in the company of others.
It’s frustrating to see, again and again, clever people coming up with solutions to well-understood problems, only to be shot down by an overzealous government.
Unfortunately, not everyone is thrilled about this new housing option. Like Airbnb, another service that arose in response to the high expense of hotels and large cities, microhousing faces threats from government regulation focused on stifling innovation and protecting established interests.
In Washington, D.C., one of the early adopters of the microhousing model, zoning regulations are proving a major problem. The rules stipulate that structures can’t be built between walls less than 30 feet apart, which puts a major cramp on developers’ ability to use alleyways and other small spaces to introduce new housing to the city.
In Seattle, where microhousing has arguably had the most success in America, the movement has been effectively killed by regulations. In this case, there’s no single rule that forbids the practice, but government regulations on building codes, parking, location limits, and design reviews make it financially unrealistic to develop microhousing as an alternative to traditional housing. It’s frustrating to see, again and again, clever people coming up with solutions to well-understood problems, only to be shot down by an overzealous government.
I’m constantly amazed at the resourcefulness of free people when confronted with a daunting problem. Solutions seem to materialize out of thin air. It’s a shame that, rather than embrace innovation, government is so committed to protecting the status quo.
Logan Albright is a researcher for Conservative Review and Director of Research for Free the People. You can follow him on Twitter @loganalbright73.