After the Salt Lake City Council approved a zoning change in 2021, 65 “micro-apartments” are coming to the city. The affordable housing project, referred to as the Bueno Avenue Apartments, will include kitchenless units with 1-4 bedrooms. Instead of private kitchens and living spaces, each floor would have a communal kitchen and living room space shared with residents of other units.
Although micro-apartments with communal kitchen spaces are new to the Salt Lake City housing scene, the architect behind the project, Anna Puigjaner says that housing with communal kitchens has historically been popular throughout history in many countries including Scandinavia, Asia, and even turn-of-the-century Manhattan.
“[Communal kitchens create] a greater interdependency between the house and the community, creating stronger social and urban bonds between the domestic and public spheres—without the kitchen, relations between the inhabitants were encouraged.”
While a communal style of living has remained popular across the world, Puigjaner explains that multiple factors led to a decline in communal housing options in America. She says, “During the twentieth century this model was politicized because the Russians began to copy it as a system of social housing…Suddenly a collective kitchen was associated with communism.”
She further explains that marketing efforts were related to a rising interest in privacy. “We start to see the design and marketing of appliances as well as the idea of the individual consumer and no longer communal spaces because it’s more profitable to sell 20 washing machines than one,” says Puigjaner.
Though a solution to the city’s affordable-housing crisis, not all are pleased with the plans for the new development. The tenant advocacy group, Wasatch Tenants United has expressed concerns that the development will lead to further gentrification, increases in average rent prices, and the displacement of current residents of the neighborhood.
“This sets a dangerous precedent,” says the group in a statement. “This is the first new development of its kind. The city council opening the doors to tenement/dormitory-style housing is especially dangerous considering the immense profitability of these sorts of units, and the lack of adequate choices in the city.”
In a response to the concerns of Wasatch Tenants United, Dejan Eskik, senior research fellow at the Kem C. Gardener Policy Institute states that he believes the new development will help solve the problem, not accelerate it. “Our housing shortage is severe and any new units help,” Eskik states. “Whether they’d be luxury condos or affordable apartments…One of the leading variables in gentrification is the lack of housing which then pushes up prices and impacts affordability. Anytime we can have a net positive in unit growth will help alleviate the housing shortage and assist with affordability.”
City council member Amy Fowler agreed when she voted in favor of rezoning to allow the micro-apartment development to go forward, explaining her reasons as follows, “As everyone knows, it’s very difficult to find housing and affordable housing within Salt Lake City. What I believe and what I have seen in other cities and what I think is a good practice is to really have a variety of housing stock that actually allows people different options.”
And different options are exactly why Puigjaner is a part of this revolutionary housing project in Salt Lake City. “While many people will prefer the private living style that rose to popularity over the last one hundred years, it should not have to be one or the other. The most important thing is to be free to choose.”