The Boldest Concept of 2014: Furnished Micro Units

by Lark Turner

A rendering of SB-Urban’s proposed Blagden Alley development.

If developer SB-Urban gets its way, DC will fill up with an eclectic type of residential unit in the coming years — furnished micro-units with short-term leases.

For those who haven’t been following it quite as obsessively as UrbanTurf, the firm was created explicitly to bring this unique micro-unit concept to DC. Founders Mike Balaban and commercial real estate magnate Frank Saul III are “focused on serving the secularly growing, and under-served, demand for rental living responsive to the requirements of urban and urbane professionals not living in historically conventional households,” according to Balaban’s own description of the company on his LinkedIn site.

A rendering of the proposal for the Patterson Mansion.

SB-Urban believes its target demographic will move in with nothing more than a laptop and a couple of suitcases. They’ll use Uber, car-share and bike-share services to get around. They’ll care mainly about WiFi, not counter space. They’ll also have a lot of money. At a meeting regarding the company’s Patterson Mansion project, an SB-Urban employee said the 350-square-foot units would be marketed to tenants making $100,000 to $125,000 a year and rent for $2,500 to $3,000 a month.

Though DC has long had small studios on the rental market, no one has ever built a multifamily project with furnished micro-units explicitly catering to a younger, more mobile demographic. SB-Urban’s plans rest entirely on knowing that demographic’s needs and habits: it assumes thousands of very wealthy people will come to the city and be happy to sacrifice space for convenience, at least for short periods of time. The company has said it expects most leases to last 7-8 months.

A rendering of the planned conversion of the Latham Hotel in Georgetown.

And it’s not like SB-Urban is testing out the concept in a small, risk-averse way, as PN Hoffman plans to do with a small number of rentable micro-units planned for its Wharf development. Instead, SB-Urban is resting its fate on the concept’s success. It has three projects on the boards: A 90-unit development at the Patterson Mansion on Dupont Circle; a 140-unit project for Georgetown’s Latham Hotel; and a new, 125-unit development in Blagden Alley.

Two of three have already cleared the biggest hurdles to development by securing zoning and historic permissions, and the Blagden Alley project will go before the BZA again in early 2015.

See other articles related to: sb-urban, microunits, micro-units, micro units, best of 2014

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/the_boldest_concept_of_2014_furnished_micros/9331


  1. skidrowedc@gmail.com said at 3:29 pm on Tuesday December 16, 2014:

    It’s “bold” that SB-Urban is jumping into 3 high-dollar projects at once, but otherwise I’m having a little trouble seeing this “concept” as groundbreaking.  How exactly is it different than AKA, the stylish extended-stay hotel which has been on H Street for almost a decade? 

    The primary distinction seems to be that SB-Urban is using the word “microunit” (trendy, young, multisyllabic!), whereas AKA prefers the word “suite” (stodgy and a bit pretentious).  “Suites,” apparently, are somewhat larger than “microunits,” but we’re not talking about anything dramatic difference.

  1. adriana said at 4:27 pm on Thursday December 18, 2014:

    I make a little more than the target demographic.  Years ago, I lived in a 450 sf 1-bedroom apartment in Georgetown.  This is a pretty tough sell.

    The only way I imagine I would ever live in a place like this is if I were in DC temporarily, and my company is offering me a choice between a hotel room and this unit.  For the price though, I’d imagine I can get something bigger.

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