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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.

Housing Innovation Lab logo

Have questions or comments?

You can share your thoughts through our online form:

Compact Living form

About the pilot

The Compact Living Policy is a two-year pilot. This 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 did this)

Many of these new compact homes will be studios and one-bedrooms, which 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 - and in doing so, give families more opportunities to live in homes that meet their needs. 


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 and alleviating market pressure on family-style homes. 
  • Build community on both a building scale and a neighborhood scale by creating spaces that encourage people to connect outside their unit.
  • Promote sustainable development creating less energy and less single occupancy vehicle trips.
  • Encourage creativity and innovation in how developers and designers meet the needs of residents.

The experiment

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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.

The policy