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Do we need thousands of micro units?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 28, 2013 08:29 AM

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With rents of $1,500 and up, the new breed of micro units taking shape on Boston's waterfront certainly look hip, but they can hardly be called affordable.

And that would seem to defeat the whole point of the tiny, 350 square foot units, taking shape in Boston's Innovation District, formerly known as the Seaport.

After all, they were supposed to provide relatively affordable digs for young entrepreneurs and recent graduates looking to set up shop in Boston.

Yet for $1,500 a month, you could buy a nice-sized condo in a town like Natick and be in town in half hour. Or team up with a roommate and get a full-sized apartment in the city.

That's a lot of money for someone just starting out.

I am sure you can come up with even better examples - you get the idea.

Well for now, you can forget about seeing a flood of these units hitting the market in Boston, with city officials putting the brakes on this new trend.

Clearly concerned about these high-priced micro units, City Hall's development arm, the Boston Redevelopment Authority now says it will be holding off introducing the concept into other city neighborhoods.

However, this Globe editorial makes a pretty persuasive case for city officials to go in the exact opposite direct and let developers build thousands of these units across Boston.

So far, only 190 are slated for construction near the Innovation District/Seaport waterfront, hardly enough to make a dent.

Basically, letting developers build thousands of these units across Boston would meet pent-up demand for this kind of starter housing, with rent falling as supply goes, or so goes the argument.

OK, that makes sense to me - maybe it's not quite yet time to write-off the whole micro-unit trend as yet another form of housing market gouging.

That said, the whole $1,500 a month rents we are seeing for the first micro units has come close to souring me on the whole idea.

After all, we have seen this before. The whole loft concept is a perfect example of how something that was once affordable for struggling - and real artists - morphed into luxury housing for the well-off.

Particularly galling has been the lack of honest, forthright discussion on the obvious fact that $1,500 a month, and, in some cases $1,700, is hardly an affordable rent for a budding entrepreneur or recent grad.

Instead, most of the discussion and media coverage has centered around the hip and cool design of these tiny units.

Great, but it all rings pretty hollow at the $1,500 price point.


This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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