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Are Micro-Apartments Legal?

When it comes to getting priced out, Bostonians are feeling the heat. Greater Boston is experiencing a staggering housing shortage -- currently, an estimated 25,000 units expected to balloon to 46,000 units, Curbed reports.

Other housing-starved cities like New York and San Francisco are turning to micro-apartments as an urban planning solution to skyrocketing housing prices. Boston is warming up to the idea of micro-apartments, albeit slowly and skeptically.

But are micro-apartments legal in Boston?


A micro-apartment is a one-room, self-contained living space, designed for efficiency. Within around 150-350 square feet, each unit manages to squeeze in a sitting space, sleeping space, bathroom and kitchenette.

Micro-apartments are marketed as a low-cost housing option for young professionals, giving them an opportunity to live in an area they otherwise couldn't afford. But the novel idea of the micro-apartment presents unique zoning challenges for cities.

Zoning Issues

Zoning categories specify the level of use and amount of square footage a particular property may have. The major zoning issues that micro architects run up against are size-related.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority handles the standards of minimum square footages in Boston. Though zoning regulations vary throughout the city, apartments typically cannot be smaller than 450 sq. ft. That restriction cramps the micro-apartment industry's ability to plan units at different price ranges, such as Micro Lofts that have been proposed at 419 sq. ft., a micro-apartment architect in Boston told PBS Newshour.

South Boston's Seaport District is the one exception to the rule. Classified as the "Innovation District," the Seaport District has city-approved plans for true micro-apartments. One such proposal at 399 Congress Street is a 414-unit residential building of which sixty units are classified as "Innovation Units" ranging from 330-450 sq. ft.

Despite the Seaport District's foray into micro-apartments in Boston, zoning remains an issue, particularly in other more developed areas surrounding downtown Boston.

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