‘Micro-units’ with Big Impact


As a recent article in the Boston Globe demonstrates, a supply of diverse dwelling types is critical to a city’s growth and sustainable development.  Small apartments, termed ‘micro-units,’ have existed in dense cities like New York, London and Paris for decades.  Five years ago, in response to a developer client wanting to deliver what he called market affordable units, Studio G Architects designed 400sf units for a former brewery in Boston.  The idea was to create affordable condos by making them extremely compact and minimizing materials – an approach which is also inherently sustainable. At the time, the idea was rejected by city officials who cited a minimum dwelling unit requirement of 500sf.

Happily, in the past year, Mayor Menino recommended that the minimum allowable housing unit size be decreased to approximately 375sf, calling for the development of such units in Boston’s Innovation District. In reality, micro-units are needed all over the inner metro area to satisfy the shelter needs of young adults, especially in this expensive housing market. 

Another housing type that should be encouraged is clustered cottages, which consist of smaller houses, sometimes attached, and clustered around shared open space.  Less dense than apartment buildings, but denser than suburban housing, these units fill another segment of the market:  empty nesters, single adults, especially older women who want a greater sense of community than a single family dwelling.  This innovation has been developed in Oregon and Washington, but should be encouraged on the East Coast.

Innovative solutions such as micro-units and clustered cottages rely on good design and thoughtful planning.  We hope these housing types will gain support throughout the area to help build sustainable communities by meeting the pressing need for good housing . 

 Related articles:

Menino Pushes Micro-units to Lure Young to Waterfront (Boston Globe): http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2011/12/13/waterfront-housing-formula-views-viable-rents-very-little-space/Qye00OdXNMV3Dl5NESi50K/story.html

More Young Adults Fleeing Their Parents’ Homes (Boston Globe): Boston Globe Article_10_26_2012 (microunits)

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