Generation Y drives developers to downsize to much smaller homes

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By Mike Saint, Founder and CEO of The Saint Consulting Group

As 70 million baby boomers reach retirement and head onto Medicare and Social Security, (with many downsizing from houses to apartments or assisted living or long term care complexes), there are 80 million Generation Y babies, ages 16 to 29, who will be looking for housing. And the planning community thinks they will be looking for urban, not suburban homes, — rental apartments with a twist: much smaller than the square footage sought by previous generations.

See this story in Multi-Family Executive magazine:

Developers, with the encouragement of planners and architects, are looking at building micro apartments with square footages of as little as 275 to 400 square feet for a one bedroom unit. Think cabin space on board a cruise ship. These buildings contain common areas for fitness, socializing, and pets – activities once located in individual apartments.

So what are the implications?

First, if you only have 400 square feet, you don’t have much room for things like clothes and furniture. So what will be the impact on retail if 80 million in GenY can’t buy things for a lack of place to put them?

Second, What happens when these swinging singles get married and have babies? Where will they move? Probably won’t be a small apartment in a singles building in a hip urban area.

Third, in the effort to solve GenY demand, the nation moves to a higher density housing (presumably in urban areas, and around transit stations as planners now are so fond of encouraging) what happens to subdivisions in the suburbs? Who will move there? Who will buy these units? Will single family home prices fall because of smaller demand?

And Fourth: what will be the impact on the planning approval process? If planners are so enamored with this new trend, how much objection will they put up to development that does not meet the new, dense, micro-apartment trends? And will local residents embrace or reject these new urban designs?

I remember growing up in the 1950’s as part of the baby boom. And seeing town after town have a school room crisis as they tried to educate more kids than they had classrooms for. There was a flurry of new school construction. Then the next generation arrived, 13% smaller in numbers, and suddenly there were too many schools and classrooms and schools were recycled as condos and offices.

What unintended or unforeseen consequences will occur from a move to cruise ship size apartments?

Mike Saint is founder, chairman and CEO of The Saint Consulting Group, email

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