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Compact Living Pilot

The City is allowing new buildings to include small, efficient housing units as long as they meet certain requirements.

The Compact Living pilot will help Boston build more homes that are well-designed and well-located. We want to create living spaces where people have easy access to work and play. Any building that wants to include these smaller units must have:

  • well-designed units with storage and natural light
  • shared common areas, and
  • transportation options that reduce car use.

Smaller units may make living in Boston near jobs and other community spaces more affordable.

About the pilot

The Compact Living Policy is a pilot that will allow City of Boston staff to evaluate the progress of the policy. We want to make sure we’re meeting our objectives.

Some may assume that small size means cramped living, but smaller homes can look and feel spacious. Using good design, a 1,000-foot, two-bedroom unit can be comfortably reduced to 600 square feet.


Interested in learning more about the specifics? Check out the Compact Living Pilot guidelines and the summary slide deck:

Compact Living Pilot guidelines

Summary slide deck

Watch: Compact Living Pilot explained

Who is Compact Living for?

Something for everyone

Compact Living units are ideal for residents looking for more affordable living. These units also provide easy access to transit, amenities, and services they need and enjoy.

Compact Living can attract many residents, including:

  • existing residents looking for affordable options
  • retirees and empty nesters looking to downsize
  • people with disabilities who benefit from affordable options near the services they need
  • young and growing families seeking more affordable two and three-bedroom apartments, and
  • young professionals and graduate students.


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The need (why we need this)

Many of these new compact homes will be studios and one-bedrooms. This will help fill the gap between:

  • the number of single people and couples in Boston (⅔ of the City population), and
  • the number of studio and one-bedroom units (⅓ of the City’s housing stock).

Many people choose to live with roommates in two-, three-, and four-bedroom homes. Compact units may help some of these people move out of those homes and into their own space. This would also give families more opportunities to live in homes that meet their needs. 

Compact Living Household Size - Household Stock

policy goals

The Compact Living Design Guidelines are intended to provide guidance to developers proposing smaller units. The aspirations of the Compact Living Design Guidelines include:

  • increase housing affordability through more units overall, including more IDP Units
  • alleviating market pressure on family-style homes
  • building community on both a building scale and a neighborhood scale
  • creating spaces that encourage people to connect outside their unit
  • promoting sustainable development that creates less energy and less single occupancy vehicle trips, and
  • encouraging creativity and innovation in how developers and designers meet the needs of residents.

The experiment

Residents want compact living

In 2016, we conducted a citywide exhibition of the Urban Housing Unit to gauge interest in smaller living. The mobile, fully-furnished apartment was just 385-square-feet. We were able to receive feedback from more than 2,000 residents.

We were able to speak to a diverse group of people — young and old — from across the City at the roadshow. Many of the people we talked to were interested in smaller units that are affordable, well-designed, and include shared spaces. Learn more about the roadshow.

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compact living in 2020

At the two-year mark of the Compact Living Pilot, 15 Compact Living projects in 9 different neighborhoods have been approved. A number of these projects are under construction. The projects range in scale and scope and include:

  • an 80-unit, co-living project, and
  • a 14-unit rental building with no car parking.

The pilot policy will continue while the program is evaluated and Compact Living units are built and occupied. 

The policy

The Compact Living Policy is available to new construction projects of 10 or more units. The policy applies to projects proposing units smaller than the following square footages: 

  • Studio: 450 square feet
  • One-bedroom: 600 square feet
  • Two-bedrooms: 750 square feet
  • Three-bedrooms: 950 square feet

    In addition to aligning with these sizes, proposed projects with Compact Living units must:

    • comply with Compact Living Design Guidelines
    • follow standard City of Boston regulatory review processes included in Article 80, and
    • follow the City of Boston Inclusionary Development Policy. This is true even when otherwise complying with all other zoning regulations.

    Developments with fewer than 15 units and under 20,000 square feet must opt into the Article 80 process.

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