Jul 29, 2022 - Business

Inside Durham's first micro-apartments

A rooftop pool overlooking the Durham skyline.
The pool deck at Atlas Durham. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

How many square feet do you need to live in? A recently opened Durham apartment is betting it can find dozens of people who can make do with around 400.

Driving the news: Atlas Durham, located on top of an old used-car lot at 321 W. Corporation St., opened earlier this year and features 171 units — many around 360 to 500 square feet.

  • Atlas was completed in February, and 60% of the units have been leased, a spokesperson for the apartment said.

Why it matters: With the Triangle becoming a more expensive market, cities have tried to encourage denser development, like Atlas, in an effort to keep housing construction up to pace with population growth.

Zoom out: An apartment under 400 square feet is not uncommon in bigger cities, said DuBose Williamson, of Charlotte-based Collett Capital, the owner of the building.

  • But typically new developments in the Triangle offer more one- and two-bedroom units. Atlas was the Triangle’s first "micro-studio apartment," with fewer than a dozen non-studios, the Triangle Business Journal reported last year.
  • The project was built by Durham-based Scott Harmon, of Durham-based Center Studio Architecture, and Paul Smith and then sold to Collett earlier this year.
A bed in a small studio apartment.
A studio apartment in Atlas Durham. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

Details: Inside one of the micro units, the stove is just a few steps from the bed and the washer and dryer sit next to the shower. Some come equipped with an Ori Pocket Closet, essentially a walk-in closet that can expand and contract.

Other amenities are stacked outside of the apartments, with entire floors dedicated to coworking space, a gym and space for hosting large gatherings.

An Ori Pocket Closet.
An Ori Pocket Closet that can expand and contract. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

Smaller units could be one way for new apartment projects to bring — somewhat — cheaper options to the Triangle’s most desirable and walkable neighborhoods.

  • "For the kind of studio, micro-units we do, you need to be at a discount," Williamson said.
  • A 387-square-foot studio, for example, is available next month for $1,410 per month, according to the apartment’s website.
  • Average rents in downtown Durham/Northwest Durham were $1,575 per month in the first quarter of this year, according to Avison Young.

Yes, but: That these micro-apartments are renting around $1,500 per month is another example of how quickly the rental market in the Triangle is changing.

Bottom line: Pricing pressure is likely to affect Triangle renters for the foreseeable future, Steven Peden, a principal with Avison Young's Capital Markets North Carolina team, told Axios last month.

  • He added it could take three to four years before supply catches up to demand.
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