More than 43 million households in the nation rely on rental housing (“Best in American Living” Winter 2015 Issue). More of the population are renting for a number of reasons. And its important not to overlook the need, and in many cases the desire, to simply rent an apartment. It gives a person freedom to enjoy life without the burden of taking care of a property. The old thought pattern, “When the stove breaks down, I don’t have to fix it” comes into play. The mobility of a society that doesn’t have the same values as the prior generation is a real impact on our near future population, economy and lifestyle.
Being the owner of a single-family residence, I find myself cursing at the yard, the exterior paint, the garden, the trees (and even the dog!) when I am bogged down on my so called “time off” to enjoy my home. With our busy lives, I believe the X Generation and the Millenial Generation have it correct when the things they value are the extra time they have with their family and friends along with the opportunity to pursue their interests beyond work. Yet another opportunity to learn a lesson from our children and younger generations.
So, now that we’ve established the value of renting an apartment in a multi-family unit, let’s peer inside. What will make the experience a positive one when your neighbors are simply across the hall or on the other side of the wall?
Construction- Green construction, low-flow fixtures, energy-efficient boilers, high-performance windows, solid-core doors, insulated walls and floors should simply be standard. Unique architecture with interesting features, colors and materials can dress up a complex. Some newer units utilize interior finishes that rival luxury homes. One of my pet peeves in the International Building Code is keeping all the accessible units on the ground floor and they usually end up being garden level. For apartments under 4 floors, how about putting in an elevator even when the building code doesn’t require the amenity? I know many impaired citizens, parents with “kiddos” in tow and seniors with bad joints that would be very grateful.
Floorplan A nifty layout, that has adjustable closet shelving (even walls) and an office nook would be accomodating. Even 1-bedroom apartments should have a small water closet for guests to preserve the privacy of the master suite. A comfortable kitchen, with lots of storage (again adjustable shelving) will house the gadgets without the clutter often associated with living in less than 1,000 square feet. Smaller, energy-star appliances that fit the lifestyle of the person will be a space saver. For example: a stackable washer/dryer, a tiny refrigerator, a smaller stove/oven, but keeping the cupboards, will often satisfy most active people. I have stayed in a 1-bedroom/1-bath ski condominium where the entire kitchen disappeared when you weren’t using it. None of the quality was sacrificed but the look was flush with the walls and blended in with beautiful wood accents and amazing simitry. We can learn a lot from the Europeans’ approach to small spaces.
Amenities A characteristic of a healthy society is community. Having a gathering place to keep in touch with neighbors and friends is ideal. One of my favorite memories as a young adult while living in Florida was when the residents would bring their cocktails around the pool daily at 5pm. Cleverly landscaped grounds with a place to share your day, work out, hold events, and start clubs with people of a common interest will add to apartment living. A small community garden with raised beds could be provided, along with dog parks, benches, picnic tables, barbeque grills and small shelters. In my perfect world, a walking/biking trail approximately 5 miles around that connects with other trails, would round out the list.
Location As our transportation costs skyrocket, not only is our wallet impacted but in also our perceived “wasted time” behind the wheel. Having easy access (ideally within ½ mile) to a bus or train stop allows multi-family residences the ability to shed their vehicular costs and use the commuting time to work or check in with their “peeps” (translation = people).
Maintenance Commonly, older apartments are in need of upgrades which would price them out of the market in their area. Some may have issues such as black mold and inefficient HVAC systems. Many older apartments can be somewhat drabby, basic and unattractive. New apartment buildings are taking advantage of many years of trendy design, construction experience and codes. Newer industrial chic construction is popping up in urban areas, along bus and light-rail stops, where older housing or industrial uses previously existed.
Cost I probably deserve a bop on the head (reality check) at this point. Having all the items listed above would make the rental cost out of reach for most folks. The key would be to have it expected and/or coveted. Put rental unit developers to task and require upgrades by using the competitive market. One solution may be to bolster funding of the CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) program or other HUD programs at previous standards to assist low-income areas. This funding has all but disappeared in most communities.
Let’s embrace the future of apartment living by addressing the needs and wants of its occupants. No longer is medium to high density a bad science experiment. Learning from our past and keeping the “institution” out of multi-family apartments will assist this viable, accessible choice in housing.