Are Micro-Apartments the Solution to Boston’s Housing Shortage?

Micro-apartments have become popular in many cities throughout the country where space is at a premium. Therefore, it should be no surprise that Boston – which has an estimated housing shortage of 25,000 units – has also experimented with this latest fad. Yet, while the first micro-apartments were constructed in Boston a year ago and seem to have been well-received by those who are interested in renting them, there are very limited plans to build more in the future.

The first micro-apartments to be constructed in Boston went up in the Seaport District, where 27 of the units were constructed. All of the units were claimed within a matter of weeks. These units, and others like them, are designed to make efficient use of space while providing shared space for tenants to enjoy. Most of the units that fall into the micro-apartment category range in size from just 450 to 500 square feet in size. Within this space, many of the units include basic appliances, such as a washer, dryer and dishwasher.

Despite the small space, the micro-apartments still come with a hefty price tag. Those currently located in Boston typically cost around $1,700 per month to rent.  While developers claim this is the solution to providing additional housing within a small amount of space, critics maintain that it is nothing more than a way for developers to make even more money.

Currently, the city of Boston has approved a total of 353 micro-units, with all of them being located in the Seaport District. Those who support development of these micro-units feel the city needs to allow for expansion beyond the Seaport District. They argue that micro-units, or “innovation units” as some supporters like to call them, offer the perfect solution for young adults looking for housing. With about a third of Boston’s residents falling into this category, the city has the largest percentage of adults between the ages of 20 and 34 in the country.

Supporters of micro-unit construction further argue that the city currently has plenty of new housing options for families, but many families are being displaced by younger renters who are snatching up the triple-deckers and renting them out with groups of friends.  By constructing more micro-units, they argue, these renters will go for the apartments while leaving the triple-deckers available for families to rent.

To compensate for the number of young people in need of housing in the city of Boston, supporters of micro-apartments estimate that the city needs to construct anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 new units geared toward younger people.  They argue that this would also help to lower the price of triple-deckers while ultimately bringing down the rental price of micro-units as well.

While city officials do see a need for more housing, they remain cautious about flooding the market with micro-apartments. Namely, they want to ensure that developers are not simply making smaller units in order to cram in as many renters as possible. Rather, they want to make sure the new units are quality units that make efficient use of space. For that reason, the city plans to move forward cautiously. After seeing how things go within the Seaport District, future plans for development may be discussed. But, for right now, the city has no plans to expand micro-apartments any further than the ones that have already been approved.

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