An article came out in the Boston Globe this week about “millenial villages,” bringing up an interesting approach to addressing some of the issues facing Boston’s housing situation. The article quotes Barry Bluestone, founding dean of the School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, who proposes construction of 10,000 units of these “millenial villages.”
The idea isn’t new, but has actually been historically discouraged in and around Boston. The concept is a more communal style of living, with lots of shared space but not much private square footage. In fact, in Boston they don’t meet minimum-square-footage guidelines. Apparently, in the age of urban renewal, eliminating such approaches to housing was seen as a way to eliminate poverty, something the article agrees is ridiculous.
The globe cites the disappearance of vast collections of books and records, converted into an iPad or similar device that takes up a fraction of the space, as a reason why millenials can survive in a “micro-unit.”
Last month, WBUR discussed the same topic in an article, quoting some who refer to micro-apartments a “cash cow for developers.” This is one problem with the new approach: It’s seen by many as a way to avoid paying for washers, dryers, lots of furniture, etc., but rent prices have not actually reflected that savings.
353 micro-units have been approved in Boston’s Seaport District, aimed at housing Boston’s influx of millenials (apparently the largest percentage in the country). According to Bluestone, as millenials increasingly move into micro-units, rents would no longer continue to rise and triple-deckers would open up across the city for working families.
Kairos Shen at the Boston Redevelopment Authority is less optimistic. He believes that it will require “a creative agreement with the developers on managing the rents.”
It seems that more space-efficient development of residential areas would lead to a larger housing stock, but what is being done to house the people already living in and being priced out of their neighborhoods? So much attention to a passing millenial fad seems shortsighted, as 10 years from now the demographic profile of the city could be quite different when millenials move into larger houses to start families. Despite the stereotype of a millenial as college-educated and well-to-do, Boston has plenty of folks in the same generation who don’t have all the same benefits and are not as likely to take advantage of these micro-units. Residential innovation is something Boston needs, but we need innovation for everybody, not just recent college grads.