Living Small

Oakland’s first micro apartments are coming to the Nook on Valdez.


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The Nook on Valdez.

Photo courtesy playground agency

The first tenants should be moving into the Nook on Valdez—Oakland’s first micro dwelling—soon. Given the city’s housing crunch, it’s no surprise that micro-unit housing of buildings filled with tiny apartments of less then 300 square feet—about the size of a one-car garage—has arrived.

Such teeny units are typically marketed toward young, single renters—Millennials, perhaps—who often spend a lot of time at work and a lot time at play. They aren’t home much, which makes it easier to manage life in a small space. Plus, the nature of the newest generation of renters is one of economy. They are less materialistic. They have downsized their attachment to things. Micro living suits them.

The Nook is at 2425 Valdez St. near Auto Row and a few blocks from Lake Merritt and sits on a narrow tract that used to be a parking lot. The new, five-story building will have 71 furnished “micro flats” or studio apartments with rents starting at $1,585 per month when it opens. “We are trying to provide a significant discount to the traditional studio apartment,” the developer, David Allen of San Diego-based Trestle Development, said in a late summer interview as he showed off the property.

At 180 square feet, the units on the lower floors were narrow, compact, and efficient. Each apartment had a bed, an efficiency kitchen with a mini-refrigerator, microwave, counter and sink, and a fold-down desk and chair. The color scheme, all white, made the space feel roomier, and subway tiles and quartz counters added style. There was room to take a few steps in the bathroom, but storage space in the closet—18 inches by 2 feet—was limited. Meanwhile, the units on the fifth floor, about 100 square feet larger, had the added plus of a loft space and three ceiling-high windows to let in loads of natural light. Those additions made them feel almost spacious.

There was communal space in spades, with a shared, full kitchen with a table and chairs on each floor so residents can cook and eat together. The first floor had room for a lounge to hang out in as well as a trendy co-working space for residents and the public. A large rooftop deck had an outdoor living room setup and boasted great views in every direction, including the expanse of the Oakland hills and a peek of the Bay Bridge between the two high-rise buildings to the west.

courtesy of playground agency

The tiny units feature fold-down tables and desks, and each have access to a communal kitchen.

The move toward these densely packed buildings in popular urban settings isn’t new. San Francisco, New York, and London have experienced a rise in micro-apartment living, so Oakland’s entry is no surprise.

“Many cities around the country have been looking at smaller rental spaces, which become more affordable housing by design,” said Laura Kaminski, an urban planner for the city of Oakland. “There’s been interest in this kind of housing in the downtown area, too.” For now, the city is taking a wait-and-see approach before adding more micro apartments to the landscape.

One thing the Nook doesn’t have is parking—a factor critical for a viable micro housing venture from a developer’s perspective—to capitalize on living space and keep costs low. A few years ago, Oakland established a pilot program to allow micro-living quarters in part of the Broadway/Valdez District. Proximity to downtown and public transit meant the micro-unit buildings could forgo parking. It’s another factor that makes micro living more affordable, said Kaminski. “The cost of a parking space, maintaining a car, it’s all gone.”

The Nook residents will have lots of new neighbors, too. The city adopted a plan to foster development along Broadway between Grand Avenue and Interstate 580 to provide new retail options and housing. Four buildings with more 1,000 residential units are slated for development within a block of the Nook.

 

Published online on Nov. 10, 2016 at 8:30 a.m.

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