IS there a mismatch between the housing New Yorkers need and the housing that gets built? Only 17 percent of dwelling units in the city are occupied by parents raising children under 25, according to the nonprofit Citizens Housing and Planning Council, but most new homes are designed with such traditional families in mind.
What is missing, housing advocates say, are homes for people who can afford only a little bit of space; living quarters large enough for four or more unrelated adults to share; and “accessory dwellings” for people who want to live close to family members who own single-family houses.
The absence of affordable housing for artists, actors, musicians and writers hoping to gain a foothold in New York is of particular concern. “We’re losing a lot of creative people to places like Buffalo and Berlin,” said Matt Blesso, a developer.
But developers like Mr. Blesso say city and state laws make it difficult to diversify the city’s housing stock. For example, it’s illegal to build units without kitchens and bathrooms or smaller than 400 square feet; and by law no more than three unrelated people are allowed to share a dwelling in the city.
David J. Burney, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Design and Construction, says “the regulatory environment has fallen behind” New York’s diverse population.
Last Monday, several architects presented their ideas for new types of housing for low-income New Yorkers. “We asked them to break the rules,” said Jerilyn Perine, the executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, which organized the conclave (along with the Architectural League of New York). Five city commissioners were on hand to critique the proposals.
Deborah Gans, an architect from Brooklyn, proposed adding tiny accessory units to a Tudor-style single-family house in Queens, some of them clinging to the original building. (Panelists referred to it as the barnacle approach.)
Rafi Segal, an architect who collaborated with Stan Allen Architect, also of Brooklyn, showed plans for a low-rise building in which prefabricated housing units would cluster around large light wells, with communal kitchens and shared bathrooms. It quickly became known as the urban kibbutz.
And a team headed by Peter Gluck, a Manhattan architect, showed how it might fit 20 small units — dubbed microlofts — onto one town-house-sized lot. Joseph Vidich, a young designer who worked with Mr. Gluck, said of the team members who are recent graduates struggling to find affordable housing, “We are part of the constituency we are designing for.”
Most of the designs were descendants of the once-common (and sometimes reviled) single-room-occupancy hotel. As Jonathan Kirschenfeld, an architect based in Manhattan, said while presenting his plans for buildings in the Bronx, “This is the S.R.O. redux.”
But not everyone was excited by that prospect. Robert D. LiMandri, the commissioner of the Buildings Department, said, “We need to enforce existing building codes, to keep people out of harm’s way.” Mr. LiMandri said that when he looks at some of the designs, “I think to myself, how is the fireman going to get in there?”
Other speakers questioned the viability of communal spaces. Ted Smith, an architect and developer from San Diego who is known for creating shared houses, said expecting a group to take care of a space is “always a mistake.”
And Mr. Smith was skeptical of the notion that convertible furniture — Murphy beds and desks that become dining tables — would make housing more affordable. “It costs more to buy the furniture than to make the room bigger,” he said.
Alexander Garvin, an urban planner, said designs involving windowless rooms might require so much electricity for lighting and ventilation that the cost savings would disappear.
But mostly the architects, activists and government officials were upbeat about the possibility of creating new housing types. “Everyone knows someone who would be well served by one of these designs,” Ms. Perine said. She said she was hoping to realize one or more of the designs in a pilot program, with government cooperation, and was also organizing a museum exhibition to bring the public into the discussion.
And Mr. Blesso said that if the laws were changed to permit some of the housing models he had seen, “I’d want to be the first to build it.”
By FRED A. BERNSTEIN