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Developers, city hope tiny apartments will keep families in Boston

Avalon North Point Lofts offers several compact options, including this 421-square-foot studio, which would rent for about $2,300 per month.

Young people have been moving to Boston in huge numbers in recent years, stressing the city’s supply of available housing and prompting one innovative response: the more affordable but tiny micro apartment.

So what happens when those young residents grow a bit older and life takes its natural course? For decades, that has meant marrying, having a child, and often moving to the suburbs or even farther away to find affordable homes.

Now some developers in Boston, with encouragement from City Hall, are beginning to build compact family units they hope will offer the convenience and cost efficiency to persuade people to stay in city neighborhoods longer.


Think of it as an extension of the micro-apartment movement. Some of those little studios cover fewer than 400 square feet. These new apartments add bedrooms but are also considerably smaller than conventional units.

At 700 to 1,000 square feet, the apartments contain two, sometimes three bedrooms and feature high ceilings and large windows designed to create a feeling of more space. Depending on the location, rents for two bedrooms start around $2,400 a month, hundreds of dollars less than traditionally sized units.

“It really allows developers to create different price points within their buildings so they can hit different segments of the market,” said Alfred Wojciechowski, an architect with CBT Architects who is designing hundreds of compact units around Boston.

Officials at the Boston Redevelopment Authority say the development of compact family units will help achieve Mayor Martin Walsh’s goal of building more moderate-income housing in the city. The key, they say, is to increase supply enough to have an impact on the market.

“That’s what will bring prices down,” said Prataap Patrose, the BRA’s deputy director of urban design. “If you provide enough quantity and variety, then you will satisfy the market and provide housing for people interested in different things.”


While new units will remain beyond the reach of many renters, their construction will help reduce rents for existing apartments that don’t offer as many modern conveniences and expensive design features.

A broader housing development boom across the Boston area is adding thousands of apartments and condominiums, but a large portion of that new stock is being built for the very expensive luxury market. In Boston, Walsh has set a goal of building 53,000 new homes by 2030, including 20,000 units for moderate income households earning between $50,000 and $125,000 a year.

One of the region’s largest apartment builders, AvalonBay Communities Inc. is offering compact two-bedroom units at several new buildings, although even they do not come cheap.

At Ava Theater District, a new building on Stuart Street, 815-square-foot two-bedroom units are being offered for about $3,900 a month. Similar units are more affordable at the company’s building at Assembly Row in Somerville, where two bedrooms with 779 square feet start at about $2,680, according to the building’s website.

“It’s really gone from a market where everyone was looking for something bigger to one where it’s all about location and efficiency,” said Michael Roberts, senior vice president of the development at AvalonBay.

Although the current wave of construction will help reduce rents, it remains difficult for young families to find affordable homes amid strong competition for units from young singles and graying baby boomers.

Patrose, the BRA official, said the authority wants to create a broad mix of unit sizes across city neighborhoods and will continue to push developers to include more two- and three -bedroom units in their buildings. While the BRA has resisted attempts by developers to build micro-unit-only buildings, he said, the agency would be open to family-oriented complexes with common play areas for children and other features.


“If you’re providing family units in significant numbers, and you have the open space and common areas to go with that, we’d absolutely be interested,” he said.

Patrose said a lot of compact units are being developed in smaller, 30- to 60-unit buildings in neighborhoods such as Jamaica Plain and Allston, where land costs are lower and developers can offer cheaper rents.

The fast-growing South Boston Innovation District has also served as a place of experimentation for housing developers. Several new buildings there feature micro units and a wide range of sizes for one- and two bedroom apartments.

At Pier 4, the Hanover Co. is offering 16 floor plans for one-bedroom units and 10 floor plans for two-bedroom units, with some two-bedrooms as small as 830 square feet. With its waterfront location, rents are high, with small two bedrooms renting for about $3,400 a month, according to the building’s website.

A new complex at 411 D Street, designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects, also features a wide range of unit sizes, including several one- and two-bedroom layouts and 450-square foot studios starting at about $2,300 a month.

“There is more diversity in the housing types being developed than I have ever seen before,” said David Manfredi, a founding principal of the firm.


Globe correspondent Casey Ross can be reached at