This Mall Launched a New Housing Trend

March 24th 2017

Eoin Higgins

In the summer of 2014, a former shopping mall in the tiny state of Rhode Island converted its storefronts into micro-apartments. What seemed like a novel experiment at the time is increasingly looking like a peak into a sometimes controversial housing trend. 

"Our tenants only need to show up with two suitcases, and they are good to go," architect Michael Abbott told Business Insider in October.

"Arcade Providence" offered a novel plan for the nation's oldest mall. The original Providence Arcade opened in 1828— it was called the Westminster Arcade then— and closed in 2008. Abbott's firm Northeast Collaborative Architects worked with building owner Evan Granoff to convert the vacant two upper stories of the mall into housing. Work was completed in October 2013. The $550 a month apartments filled up fast.

In Yonkers, just north of New York City, development company National Resources will open Uno at 1 Larkin Plaza in April. The complex will have 50 micro-apartments and 50 loft apartments available for "young professionals and empty-nesters looking for a stylish home in an urban location with short commutes to Manhattan," according to lohud.

Renting the Yonkers apartments is quite a bit more expensive than their Rhode Island neighbors. Uno's rents start at $1,500 a month for the micro-apartments (the larger "lofts" start at $1,800 a month). They are a little bigger— 350-450 square feet as opposed to 225-300 square feet in Providence— and come with a built in pull-down Murphy bed.



The trend of micro-housing is spreading across the country.

Micro-housing website cites economic, demographic, and environmental factors as the keys to the movement's growing popularity. Some 26 percent of U.S. homes are single family units and the green movement is combining with the unstable U.S. economy to make the small dwellings attractive to a wide swath of Americans.

But not everyone is enthused about the micro-housing unit.

In Seattle, the city's regulatory bodies have instituted restrictions on the dwellings designed to maximize affordability. The regulations include maximum rents allowable for new construction, and minimum size requirements that would put many existing micro-units at odds with the law, according to architect David Nieman.

Nieman complains that the city has strangled micro-housing development because of "myths" about the dwelling units' effects on public health, human dignity, fire safety, and responsible stewardship. But what it really comes down to— as Nieman admits— is the profitability of constructing the units. The regulatory burdens, he argues, make micro-housing in Seattle a non-starter.

Seattle city government says it's just interested in maintaining access to housing for its citizenry— and that the regulations are a way of meeting the developers half-way.

“This bill, to be clear, is a compromise,” Councilmember Mike O'Brien said in 2014 of a regulatory framework for micro-housing the city put together. “It creates a path for these affordable micro-housing units to continue to be developed.”

While Seattle works out the details of balancing affordable housing with a new, innovative solution to overcrowding, the rest of the country is moving forward with micro-apartments and small living— after all, it may be the future of urban design.


In Austin, Texas, Kasita CEO Jeff Wilson is beginning production on 700 micro-homes with built in smart technology to make the 352 square foot living spaces feel palatial. Wilson, who lived in 33 square foot dumpster to show off his small-scale living ingenuity before winning the Innovation Award at SXSW in 2016, is selling each of the glass and steel units for $139,000.

The first one off the production line, he says, is going to be his.