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Last updated: 12/10/18

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.

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.

compact living people

The need (why we did this)

Filling the gaps

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

  1. the number of single people and couples in Boston (two-thirds of the City population), and
  2. the number of studio and one-bedroom units (one-third 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. By doing so, families will gain more chances to live in homes that meet their needs.

compact living household size and household stock chart

Goals of our guidelines

The Compact Living Design Guidelines offer direction to developers proposing smaller units. The goals of our guidelines include:

  • creating more affordable housing by creating more units overall
  • building community by creating spaces that encourage people to connect outside their unit
  • promoting sustainable development that wastes less energy, and
  • encouraging creativity and innovation in how developers and designers meet the needs of residents.

The experiment

Compact Living

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.

Housing Innovation Competition

We used the lessons learned from our roadshow to inform the City’s first Housing Innovation Competition. The competition sought innovative ideas for small, affordable family units. We issued a Request for Proposals for City-owned parcels in the Garrison Trotter neighborhood of Roxbury. A panel of jurors that included members of the community chose the Dream Development’s proposal for 24 Westminster Avenue as the winner.

The Dream proposal received approval from the Zoning Board of Appeal on June 26, 2018. We expect construction to begin soon. Each of the proposals also showed that compact units can create affordable housing without relying on major subsidies from the City. (See more on each submission).

housing innovation contest 4 westminister

The policy

Developing policy and guidelines

Our Compact Living Policy and Guidelines were created by a team made up of members from:

We used the lessons we learned from the Urban Housing Unit engagement to inform this process. We want to make sure compact living proposals meet the needs of residents while creating more affordable housing. We plan to test these guidelines for two years during the Compact Living Policy Pilot in Boston. Basic information on the pilot is listed below. You can read more about the details in our Compact Living Pilot report.

Compact Living is defined as…

New developments of 10 or more units with units sizes smaller than the square footage listed below:

compact living unit threshhold


If you are a developer and want to build a Compact Living Development, you must meet these requirements:

  • You need to comply with the Compact Living Design Quality Standards.
  • You must follow the standard City of Boston regulatory review processes. This includes hosting community meetings and having the Planning & Development Agency urban design team review your proposal.
  • You also need to follow the City of Boston Inclusionary Development Policy.
  • If your project proposes 10 to 14 units, you will also need to opt in to an Article 80 Small Project review.

Compact Living Design Guidelines include the following sections:

Compact living guidelines interior, space, transportation