Brainstorming Apartments for Niche Markets

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There are very few occupations that have housing set aside just for them. There are military barracks, but those are only for active duty military. There is specialty housing for religious devotees such as convents, monasteries and rectories. For college student there are dorms of course and a subset of landlords that cater to students, with an even smaller subset catering to medical residents and interns.

In Chicago there’s also a handful of buildings dedicated to artists with rooms in the building set aside for music practice and studio use. Until recently, all of these niche markets have been gussied up ways of making low-income, run down housing acceptable to build in otherwise hostile neighborhoods due to the innate but socially acceptable poverty and traditional whiteness of these select groups of people.

But lately the “artist apartment” has seen a renaissance with new communities popping up across the south side. These buildings are still low income housing, but underwritten by grants and spearheaded by community champions they are not your average run down fleabag artist communes. They’re brand new construction and quite fancy.

The rebirth of artist apartments in Chicago led me to think about other job and interest based niche communities that might do well to have apartment buildings created just for them. After all, if the often outrageous artistic temperaments can get along living together in a single building, certainly some other groups can find enough common ground to share an address as well. Here are some of our ideas and how to make them happen.

For Athletes

Many newer apartment communities (and some old ones) offer on-site gyms but they’re notoriously terrible, with poorly maintained and filthy equipment from 20 years ago crammed into a tiny room with no extra space for stretching and certainly no free weights. Most athletes will have memberships at gyms outside the home but as we were reminded this week, it snows here. There are some days when you really should not be going outside in all of that, especially if you need your body to keep working correctly.

Athlete communities might have apartments with slightly larger rooms, possibly sacrificing some kitchen space in favor of a larger room for moving around. Walls would need to be strongly constructed to handle people hanging things like bikes and dip bars from them, with wall studs clearly marked. Ceilings would need to be higher than normal to accommodate the elevated platforms of cardio machines. Floors would have to be concrete to minimize noise between levels with sprung laminate floors or low pile carpet. A full onsite third party gym would be a must, along with a pool. The building would ideally be a high rise with more stairwells than elevators.

Potential complications: extra aggressive tenants, more holes in the walls than normal.
Potential benefits: super healthy tenants, good press, diverse and active tenant pool with built-in referrals from team sports.

For Gamers and Devs

We couldn’t target the jocks without also targeting the nerds, right? (Just kidding.) Many of the devs I know miss the days of having a campus-wide LAN that they all could access together. While VPNs and remote access have made it easier to for those with the skills to access any of their computers anywhere, there’s still something to be said for a community where everyone can set up their own router without outside help.

For the IT-focused community we’d have to start with the wiring. Every room would need to have at least one outlet of a specific color on a separate circuit just for electronics. Security would also need to be a point of focus since any thief would want to target an apartment building full of high end gadgets. Every apartment should come with mount points for security cameras and motion sensors that renters could install themselves. All exterior doors would have to require 2 factor identification – doormen are cool and all but they’re just not tech enough for a building like this.

Apartment rooms should be long but narrow, allowing space for big screen TVs with proper viewing distance or PCs with many monitors. Kitchens should be easy to clean with many cabinets and enough counter space to hold any number of smart appliances.

Community amenities would have to include gigabit fiber and a building-wide LAN with capacity for version control storage. As internet technologies progress the connection speeds should be updated accordingly. Also given that IT folks can often remain in their homes for hours on end, building-wide events that force them to interact with each other such as game competitions and collaborative dev projects might not be a bad idea.

Finally, since a lot of gamers tend to stream or record their play time for upload to Youtube, certain hours of each day should be designated as quiet hours for filming and apartments should have designated “filming rooms” with good natural light and anchors pre-installed for acoustic panels.

Potential complications: Security, isolation, a building full of trolls in potentia, electrical fires.
Potential benefits: Solid rent-to-income ratios, long leases, no trouble renting out the basement units.

For Chefs and Cooks

Your average bachelor/ette might not need a lot of room to prepare a meal, but if you’re known for your cooking or even just want to make and share a half-decent Thanksgiving dinner with your family of choice you’re going to be hard pressed to do so in most apartments.

Chefs need cabinets. Lots of them. Well-lit pantries too, and space for a fridge and a separate freezer. If they’re on an upper level they need a lift for bringing up the groceries even if it’s a walk-up building. Get a pulley installed if you have to. (Seriously, why has no enterprising Chicagoan come up with an outdoor dumbwaiter yet?) They need wide open countertops with outlets. None of this island nonsense, have you tried to run the standard 18″ electrical cord from a blender on an island to a wall outlet? Not happening.

Counters should have enough space to make a lasagna or pull homemade noodles. Provide anchors in the ceiling for pot racks. Give them an easy way to get wet trash out of the building. Let tenants choose to bring their own appliances including the fridge and the stove if they choose. (Note: I know this is common in other areas of the world but it isn’t in Chicago.)

They also need spaces to serve that food. Cooking gourmet meals for one is no fun. The apartments for cooks must have dining rooms and the building should have more than just the one party room that most modern apartment communities offer as an “amenity.”

Ideally the community should also offer greenhouse space for growing your own herbs and veggies. A stock of loaner appliances might also be nice. You don’t always need to have a pasta maker or an air fryer, but being able to check one out for an evening from a central supply room would be awesome.

Finally, a certain number of apartments in the building should have two kitchens for those who need to keep kosher.

Potential complications: Pest infestations, cooking fires, large parties, food allergens.
Potential benefits: Your management team will never be hungry.

For Urban Farmers

Greenhouse space is nice but it doesn’t help with the goats and the chickens, which are both becoming more common residents of Chicago of late along with bees, pigs and alpacas. It also doesn’t help if you want to put in some serious space-eating crops during our few warm months. Urban homesteading is not apparently going away anytime soon and it’s time that landlords start catering to this group.

The urban farmpartment building would need be on the small side with a vacant lot on each side, and possibly across the street as well. One lot and the roof should be set out for gardening beds, another lot can be used for critter pens. Every apartment should have a south-facing balcony that can be reached by a hose for smaller potted plants. A storage room on the ground floor could be set aside for animal feed storage and supplies.

Potential complications: odors, noise (a “no roosters rule” would have to be in place in the lease), invasive species, horticulture of controlled substances.
Potential benefits: very long term leases, great with kids, likes long walks on the beach… um… strike that last one…, self-sufficiency, re-use of dormant land.

Fact: we had at three other ideas that we cut from the list. We’re sure you can come up with some apartment community design ideas that would appeal to people with your interests. Help us brainstorm in the comments, and maybe we can share this article with the city when we’re all done?

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Published by

Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.