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Urban Housing Unit

Through our interactive exhibit, we heard from the community about what they think about smaller living.

The Urban Housing Unit was a compact apartment on wheels. We took it from downtown Boston to Roslindale, Mattapan, Dorchester, Roxbury, and East Boston. The 385 square-foot, one-bedroom unit was modular and fully furnished.

The Housing Innovation Lab led this engagement effort led from August - November in 2016.

Why we did this

We wanted to hear what residents thought about smaller living. Through the roadshow, we want to show people how smaller spaces can offer livability and comfort at a good price.

Evidence shows that smaller, modular units can be built much cheaper than traditional housing. This could turn into savings for renters and buyers.

The experiment

Our hypothesis? By creating an interactive experience around smaller living, we’ll gain a better idea of who might benefit from this type of housing.

On the go

We started at City Hall Plaza on August 5, 2016. The roadshow then moved to Roslindale, Mattapan, Dorchester, Roxbury, and East Boston. We’d stay at a single site in the neighborhood for about two weeks. We picked locations after partnering with the local community. We also created events to further engage residents. In total, we held 24 roadshow events.

Engaging with residents

More than 2000 Boston residents came to check out the unit. They also talked with members of the Housing iLab and our partners. We gathered feedback with the help of our partner WHAT’S IN. The research team is focused on creating affordable living options. With their help, we made sure all of comments, questions, and concerns helped inform future City decisions.

We asked two major questions:
  1. Who do you think would want to live in a space like this?
  2. What kinds of benefits, services, and infrastructure would need to exist around a unit of this size to make it livable?

Our outreach was a fantastic success. The Housing iLab collected hundreds of comment cards with helpful feedback. This information helped define the what’s needed for compact living to work in Boston.

Results and lessons learned

The potential for compact living

We found that compact living could help make living in Boston more affordable. Compact living gives developers more options for what they can build. This type of housing can also address the needs of buyers and renters who are looking for something smaller.

There are issues

Even those encouraged by a smaller space have potential concerns. We need to keep this in mind. The infrastructure, benefits, and services that surround compact living units are an just as important as the unit itself. Each neighborhood has its own needs and preferences. We need to keep these in mind in the development process.

One size doesn't fit all

We need to make sure compact housing options the needs of potential buyers, renters, and the community. The city must develop a process that involves the community when proposing compact units.

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