The Housing System: Is less more?

From SROs to micro-units, living small has a long history in New York. Who benefits?

July 8, 2019

Recorded on May 9, 2019.

The Housing System was a six-program series on pressing issues at the intersection of design, policy, and politics in housing in spring 2019.

Contemporary micro-units have come to be perceived as a panacea for addressing the affordability and availability of housing, particularly for two parts of the demand spectrum: relatively affluent young professionals and formerly homeless individuals. But is living small a choice or necessity? The second event in the series focused on small dwellings, including their effects on tenants, how they fit into the life cycles of residents and neighborhoods, and whether they normalize high costs and housing insecurity.

Writer and designer Jonah Coe-Scharff questions what qualifies as the “minimally acceptable dwelling,” tracing three historical episodes in the 20th century when architects and policymakers attempted to determine standards. Jessica Yager, the former executive director of the NYU Furman Center, details the conclusions of the research report, 21st Century SROs: Can Small Housing Units Help Meet the Need for Affordable Housing in New York City? Environmental psychologist Susan Saegert explains her research into the effects of crowding and small dwelling spaces. The three presenters are joined by architects Andrew Bernheimer, Miriam Peterson, and William Stein to debate the potential and pitfalls of small living spaces.