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Housing Innovation Competition (2016)

In 2016, we asked development teams to propose innovative compact living designs.

The goal of the competition was to show that small, affordable family units are feasible. The competition took place from November 2016 - June 2017.

This wasn’t just an ideas competition. The subjects of the competition were five city-owned properties in the Garrison Trotter neighborhood. The winning proposals in the competition would be built there.

Why we did this

Units with smaller footprints give residents an affordable option to renting or owning. Developers can also build these units closer to the City center and public transportation. Through this competition, we wanted to find out the potential for creating these units at an affordable price.

The experiment

Our hypothesis? By putting out a call for innovative proposals with a chance to build out the winning idea, we expected many unique approaches. We also expected to gain a better understanding of the potential for affordable compact units outside of Boston’s downtown.

Judging the proposals

We received seven proposals. Each had a unique approach to developing affordable, compact units in Garrison Trotter. We reviewed the proposals to ensure they met all our requirements. Six of the proposals did, and a panel of jurors reviewed each of these.

The multidisciplinary jury members from the Garrison Trotter Neighborhood Association, the architectural and development community, and the City. The nine jury members were looking for how well the proposals met the RFP’s:

  • innovation
  • design
  • sustainability, and
  • affordability criteria.
Community event

Community support also played a big part in the final decisions. Two approaches were taken to include community support:

  • the jury included members of the community, and
  • the applicant teams presented each proposal to the community during a community event.

We designed the community event as both a gallery walk and presentation. We encouraged residents to learn about each proposal and to offer criticisms, questions, and support. Members of the Housing Innovation Lab and our partners were present at the community event. We took down these responses, and let the jury know.

Award winners

A winner was announced in June 2017. The jury picked Dream Development LLC as the best overall proposal. Other award winners were:

View the full proposals


Results and lessons learned

A valuable experience

The City needs routine outlets and incentives to find and test new housing ideas. The first Housing Innovation Competition showed the value these competitions can serve:

  • as outlets for new ideas
  • as tests to more fully test project ideas, and
  • as a chance to better meet the housing preferences of Boston residents.
Building relationships

We need to create a better model for experts, developers, and the community to work together. This was essential to the progress of the competition. Before the jury picked a winner, all elements of each proposals were thoughtfully considered. That’s only possible when experts across industries and neighborhoods work together.

Keeping the community in mind

Innovation in housing is shaped by and with the community. The process and final product were improved because we included community members. Innovative housing is not created for communities. It’s created with them.

A developer needs to consider flexibility when building compact units, especially for growing families. We made sure to keep the community in the loop to cater to the unique requirements of modern family living.

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