Tiny apartments are invading Minneapolis, one $1,000 rent check at a time

The Whit includes 318 square foot units at around $1,000 per month.

The Whit includes 318 square foot units at around $1,000 per month.

The future reveals itself along Blaisdell Avenue near the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Demo crews lay waste to the former Urban League Academy. Its replacement will be five-stories adorned in glass and balconies, with 74 rental units. More than half will be micro-apartments. They'll be as tiny as 340 square feet while costing about $1,000.

With amenities like a gym and rooftop communal space, "The Whit," as the complex will be called — in homage to its Whittier neighborhood — is Yellow Tree Development's second micros project. Its first, a nine-unit building east of 35W in Minneapolis, hasn't had a vacancy since opening in May 2016, while delivering rents that "outperformed our projections," according to Yellow Tree's Robb Lubenow.

"People would rather have nice, smaller spaces with amenities and access to things in the area than paying $1,800 per month, or however much it is for a one bedroom," he says. "The way to do that is to give up space." 

The amount of living space young people will tolerate has shrunk, according to Lubenow. He claims market forces like the construction costs, permitting fees, and assessments have coaxed developers to get leaner with their buildings. 

Lubenow says tenants will come because living at The Whit will afford them easy access to Eat Street, Uptown, and downtown. 

The relatively recent phenomena began in America's coastal space-strapped cities. New York City got its first microapartment building in 2013, with some units as tight as 250 square feet. By 2015, Seattle's inventory pushed 800, with another 1,600 micro units planned. 

Coze Flats on University Avenue SE, near the St. Anthony Bridge, opened in 2014. Almost all of its 48 units, the tiniest at 400 square feet and the average covering 469 square feet, were gobbled up in six months. Among the amenities: a fitness room and washers and dryers in every unit.

One of Coze's pint-sized rentals — at 417 square feet — currently lists for about $1,300 per month.

Micros debuted in St. Paul in July. The 78-unit building is known as "Ray," located not far from the University of Minnesota. Its rentals range from 372 to 505 square feet, with perks like a rooftop party deck and a pet spa with a doggie treadmill. Early birds inked rents between $900 and $1,100. Those now looking to call the complex home will pay anywhere from $1,000 to $1,300. 

Developer Brad Johnson told the Pioneer Press in September that he "quickly adjusted these upwards as we got a response."

The city of Minneapolis doesn't have a “micro apartment” designation, but ordinance says "dwelling units" can't be smaller than 300 square feet. According to spokesperson Casper Hill, it's unknown how many projects are in the city's planning pipeline. 

Master Properties' Theater Garage Apartments have six floors and 113 apartments at the corner of Franklin and Lyndale avenues, and will include units no bigger than 480 square feet. 

Another developer is pitching more across the street. CPM's proposal features five stories and 75 apartments, the majority of which would range from 362 to 482 square feet.

Elliot Park, shoehorned in the southeast corner of downtown, used to be forgotten real estate. Where ragamuffin structures stood will be more than 200 apartments, with a few being no more than 450 square feet.          

Mary Bujold of Maxfield Research, a real estate consulting firm, foresees construction of more in the coming years. She bases her prediction on "the success we've seen in a small number buildings near the U and along light rail lines."  

"I don't know if I'd say a dozen buildings, but there will be more, with people looking to locate sites where they can put up buildings with 50 to 55 units," she says. "The reason they're popular is price. Somebody wants to live in a new place and doesn't want to pay $1,500, but $1,100 a month they will."

Construction of The Whit is expected to be completed in fall 2018. The company plans to begin pre-leasing in the spring. 

Maxfield's Bujold sees a bullish market for the foreseeable future. But she also knows the day of saturation will arrive.   

"We won't know that until it happens," she says. "But there is a limit in the number of people willing to live in 400 square feet."