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Tampa renters give up bedrooms for better apartment location

TAMPA — Tampa's boom in urban living has led to thousands of apartment hunters to choose “small is beautiful” over “bigger is better.”

Call them studios or efficiencies, they have one thing in common: no bedroom.

Long a staple of housing in bigger cities like Chicago and New York, studios have become a growing part of Tampa's housing mix as more people choose location — living close to the action downtown — over space, said Jennifer Doerful, executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Builders Association.

“These studios, they're really about lifestyle choice,” Doerful said. “Most people in an urban area aren't buying space to entertain.”

They increasingly do that outside their apartments, whether in the expanding communal areas within complex or at growing numbers of bars and restaurants popping up nearby, she said.

“You can give on space whereas you don't want to give on location,” Doerful said.

Since the days of the housing boom, Tampa has tripled its supply of studio apartments, according to recently released census data. The city now has about 6,000 households renting apartments that have no bedrooms. Across Hillsborough County, the number is more than 13,000 — four times what is was in 2007.

Studios turn up in apartment complexes in Lutz and Carrollwood as well as in the West Shore Business District. But the strongest growth has come in downtown and the Channel District, where new complexes are chasing the rising demand for city living.

Downtown's two residential towers — The Element and Skypoint — have studios. They're also part of the plan for the Residences at the Riverwalk, the new tower planned by Intown/Framework, the developers of the other two towers.

Framework president Phillip Smith said small units are marketed as one-bedrooms because they have walls that frame a sleeping area. But because building codes require a bedroom to have a window, the apartments are technically studios.

Including smaller living spaces in an apartment complex means creating more common areas, Smith said.

“You have to offer almost external living rooms,” he said.

At Pierhouse, a newly opened apartment complex in the Channel District, an open-air sculpture garden runs through the center of the complex, providing some of that common space.

About 10 percent of Pierhouse's 356 units are studios. Nearby, The Place, The Slade and Grand Central also offer them. Victory Lofts' units have two-floor designs with an elevated bedroom open to the floor below.

“A lot of students will want studios because it's better than a dorm room,” said Marvin Meeks, whose real estate office sits in the heart of the Channel District. “They sacrifice space to be in the neighborhood.”

They also sacrifice money.

A 540-square-foot studio at Pierhouse rents for $1,270 a month. Studios at the Carlton Arms North apartments in Lutz are about half that price, but they're also a lot farther from downtown's night life.

Despite that, the demand for apartment living remains high.

The number of households in complexes with 20 or more units grew 42 percent between 2007 and 2012, the census said.

In the quest for downtown living, people are paying ever more of their income on rent, according to the census. Before the recession, about 40 percent of renters paid more than a third of their income on housing. Today, nearly half pay that much.

Smith sees several things influencing that growth. It's not just the addition of high-end apartments, he said.

A post-recession decline in incomes means people are spending more of what's left to put a roof over their heads.

But there's also the demand for rental living as people who have weathered the recession with roommates move out on their own.

“People are looking for privacy again,” he said.

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