Lilliputian Lodging

We all know that New York City housing prices are absurd and out of control — so much so that city officials subsidize the housing needs of people who are making six-figure incomes.  Now there’s a new potential solution to the Big Apple’s housing problems.  It’s called micro-living.

The idea is simple: make apartment units that are smaller than standard New York City apartments.  Much, much smaller, in fact.   The apartment units at Carmel Place range from 265 square feet to 360 square feet, which required a waiver of the NYC minimum-size requirement of 400 square feet.  The units feature kitchenettes and space-saving devices, like a desk that folds into a table and a bed that retracts from the wall, as well as a small balcony.

cramped-spaceTo get a sense of how small these apartments are, consider that the standard size of a two-car garage is 24 x 24, which equals 576 square feet, or more than twice the size of the smallest micro-apartment.  The largest micro-apartment is less than two-thirds that size.  But the market price tags for the micro-units aren’t small — at least not by Midwestern standards.  The market-rents for the micro-units range from $2,650 a month to $3,150 a month.  (New York City being what it is, 40 percent of the units have rates set by affordable housing programs that top out at $1,500 per month, which still seems like a lot for the privilege of living in the rough equivalent of a one-car garage.)

I’m all for living in smaller spaces and making more efficient use of space; it’s one of the reasons we moved from the ‘burbs to our current home.  265 square feet, however, seems way too tiny for comfort — even if only one person lives there.  Maybe New Yorkers are conditioned to being crowded and cramped and jammed cheek to jowl into subway cars, but I think I’d end up climbing the walls of my little shoebox after sitting at my little desk and staring at the wall a few feet in front of my face and venturing out onto a dinky balcony.  For the mental health of the micro-inhabitants, I hope there’s a nice park or spacious coffee house nearby.

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The Big Short

The Big Short is one of those movies that is intended to make you uncomfortable — and it succeeds, twice over.

The film tells the story of the housing bubble and sub-prime mortgage fiasco that led to the economic collapse and stock market crash of 2008. It begins with the handful of loners and clear-eyed if vulgar realists who investigated, read what others didn’t, identified the unsustainable reality, and then figured out a way to make lots of money, even as the financial and political establishment was smugly convinced that the impending disaster couldn’t possibly occur.

bigshortbaleDon’t worry if you don’t know much about finance or economics — as the movie progresses you’ll get humorous little tutorials on the key concepts from exotic-looking women taking bubble baths, Anthony Bourdain figuring out what to do with old fish, and a prize-winning economist and Selena Gomez playing blackjack.  And, of course, all along the viewer knows the catastrophe is coming.  Even so, it’s uncomfortable to watch it unfold and to hear once again about Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and Countrywide and bailouts and the other events that made some people wonder if the American economy and capitalism would even survive the cataclysm.

It’s a powerful story, and The Big Short tells it well.  Its ensemble cast, which features Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell, is excellent, but it’s not an ensemble movie in the traditional sense, because some of the principal players never interact on screen.  They’re each running their own funds, dealing with their own investors and institutional pressures and insecurities, seeing the overall mess from different perspectives and wondering whether they are witnessing fraud or imbecility or incompetence.  And, as the movie reaches the point where the world economy teeters on the brink, they convincingly portray the sense of astonishment and shaken wonder at how the hell it all happened in the first place.

So, reliving those grim days when fortunes were lost and the country plunged into recession is uncomfortable, for sure.  And the second uncomfortable moment comes when the movie ends — because the final message of The Big Short questions whether the same thing could happen again and whether new bubbles are percolating even as we speak.  One of the core themes of the film is that most of the Wall Street wizards really aren’t so wizard-like after all — just greedy hustlers who don’t really sweat the details or even fully understand why they’re making the obscene amounts of money they’re making and are oblivious to the risks they are creating for the rest of us who have to deal with the aftermath.

It doesn’t exactly make you feel super secure about your 401(k) plan, now does it?