July 7, 2014

Micro apartments coming to downtown Hartford

HBJ Photo | Brad Kane
HBJ Photo | Brad Kane
One story of Hartford's 360 Main St. residential tower will include micro apartments.
Rendering | CNN
A typical micro apartment layout, showing all the amenities in one small space. Mouta’s micro units will have a similar look.

A trendy but tiny concept sweeping its way through housing developments in many major U.S. cities will land in Hartford as early as this year, just a few blocks from where UConn will build its downtown campus.

Developer-landlord Carlos Mouta said he plans to add micro apartments to his 360 Main St. residential tower, as part of an $820,000 building renovation aimed at cashing in on the notion that recent college graduates and workers in transition will trade extra elbow room for a lower-priced urban residence.

Micro apartments generally are defined as single-resident living spaces of 350 square feet or less, with all amenities included in one small living area. While popping up in high-priced cities like San Francisco and Chicago, the micro apartment concept just started taking hold in the East Coast last year in New York City and Boston. Mouta will be the first developer to bring it to Hartford.

"There is a need for it," Mouta said. "I like to do different things."

Mouta's 360 Main St. renovation will focus on one, 10,000-square-foot floor that will have 20 units, including 16 micro apartments, three two-bedroom apartments, and one, one-bedroom apartment. He already owns the building.

The micro units will each be 300 square feet, complete with their own day bed or Murphy bed, which folds up into the wall creating extra living space during the day. The units will also have a mini-kitchen with a stove top, convection microwave, and mini-fridge; a television; WiFi; and a bathroom. Mouta anticipates charging $725-$795 for each unit with all utilities included. All residents must sign at least a one-year lease.

"They are designed and constructed in ways where there is no need for furniture," said Michael Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority, which is helping finance the housing conversion. "We looked into it in larger cities, and this has become a strategy that is very successful."

CRDA is helping Mouta finance the project with a three-year, $320,000 loan. Mouta is also investing $500,000 of his own money. CRDA hopes to have the loan approved by the State Bond Commission at its July 26 meeting.

The Hartford micro apartments will be marketed to recent college graduates, employees of downtown firms working on limited-time contracts, and center-city workers who commute 60 minutes or more and want a nearby place to crash, Mouta said.

With UConn creating a campus on nearby Prospect Street at the site of the former Hartford Times building, college students — particularly graduate students — could become residents of the micro apartments as well, Mouta said.

Asking these potential residents to pay more than $2-per-square foot in downtown Hartford is quite aggressive, Freimuth said, but Mouta's price point is in line with what a cheap studio apartment would cost in the same market.

"Plus, you don't have to buy furniture, and it is ready to move in," Freimuth said.

Boston used to limit apartments to a minimum 450 square feet, but the city recently started experimenting with smaller micro units for developments on the South Boston waterfront. Boston prefers to call them innovation units instead of micro apartments.

"We see this as an opportunity to explore housing options that are more affordable for the growing demographic of young professionals in the city," said Nick Martin, spokesman for the Boston Redevelopment Authority. "Over time, however, it's our goal to take the lessons learned about this pilot program and to apply them to developing creative affordable housing solutions for families."

Freimuth said the micro apartment concept could be expanded in Hartford, especially if Mouta's project proves successful, but no one else has brought a similar proposal to CRDA yet.

Downtown Hartford is in a bit of a housing renaissance as 997 residential units are set to come online starting this year and through spring 2016.

Most of the developments — like the renovation of the 777 Main St. office tower into housing — are geared toward young professionals, although those units are going to be mostly studios and one bedrooms.

"We are trying to figure out the right blend in all the buildings we are doing," Freimuth said.

Freimuth said — like many downtown developers — Mouta's timeline to have his micro apartments ready by the end of the year is aggressive but possible.

Once the units do come online, Mouta said he doesn't anticipate having any problems filling up the 16 units.

"I'm hoping it will be people without cars. Parking downtown is tough," Mouta said.

Potential tenants will be enticed by the downtown location, the lower monthly rent, the minimal space that needs upkeep, and not having to buy furniture or any other furnishings, he said.

"For a student coming out of college, it is less expensive, and you pay one bill, and that's it," Mouta said.

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