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Community Impact

Aug 09, 2016

Housing Solutions for the “Missing Middle”

Ensuring an adequate supply of urban housing for people up and down the socio-economic ladder is critical to the health of our cities.

Working with partners in government, business, civic institutions, and community organizations, the Boston Society of Architects/AIA (BSA) and the BSA Foundation have developed a robust array of solutions to meet the challenge of housing affordability. These initiatives cover a broad range of issues, from the details of design and construction to the antiquated planning and zoning that have made middle income housing so challenging to produce.

Housing development is difficult because it touches on contentious cultural concerns, regulatory requirements, land acquisition, construction costs, and design and planning expectations that play themselves out in neighborhoods to which many people stake a claim. Room size, unit size, building size and massing, construction materials and techniques, and proximity to transit, jobs, and retail are issues that connect the smallest design details to broad urban planning questions. Our response is a series of pilot projects that address the complexity of these issues with concrete and replicable approaches.

Urban housing unit (UHU)—visiting six communities around Greater Boston, summer/fall 2016

Built in partnership with the Mayor's Innovation Lab and LiveLight

Recent decades have seen the average dwelling size in this country jump from 1,650 to 2,200 square feet, requiring more land and more money, yet there is a critical shortage of affordable studios and one bedrooms for singles, couples, artists, divorcees, single parents, and the elderly. This initiative proves that it is possible to design, build, and furnish a livable (and lovable) 385 square foot apartment or condo for $40,000—$70,000 (before land costs) that can be stacked to form a multifamily development. The UHU is a living lab that will gather input from visitors as it travels. Visit for more information, including tour dates and programs.

One Room Mansion exhibition—at BSA Space November 10, 2016 through February 6, 2017.

Curated by the BSA, sponsored, funded by the BSA Foundation, and built in partnership with the Carpenters Union and Boston Modern furniture.

BSA Space will be transformed into a simulated compact-unit multifamily apartment building to engage and educate visitors about new housing approaches and solutions. The exhibit will be rich with research on the housing crisis, video stories, shared common areas, and physical examples of dwellings that include a studio, and both one- and two-bedroom compact apartments. Complemented by a variety of related public and professional programs, and the traveling UHU, the exhibition will invite developers, politicians, planners, designers, and community members to consider new ways to create housing for the “missing middle.” The UHU will end its tour on the lawn of Atlantic Wharf, just outside BSA Space, November 10 through December 10.

Roxbury Developer Competition

Created in partnership with the Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab and the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND)

Compact apartment prototypes suggest that smaller sizes have big benefits—but they still need to be sited and built. This competition offers the opportunity to explore real development options on city-owned sites in Roxbury. Development programs were refined at a BSA Foundation-sponsored housing charrette held in April of 2016 that allowed community residents to articulate their needs, their desires for common amenities, and provide input on compact unit and neighborhood design. Competition dates are pending. Visit for more information.

MassMid State Housing Program

Financial model developed in partnership with Community Builders

Housing affordability is a challenge throughout much of Massachusetts, and requires comprehensive policy responses at a regional level. This program envisions 100% middle-income housing with little to no public subsidy by working with amenable towns to identify appropriate sites. The goal is to achieve reasonably priced new apartments or condos in a 50 to 60 unit, compact living, mid-rise development, with a percentage of units set aside for town workers. The BSA will continue discussions to find an agency proponent for this pilot project. Ideally, MassMid would produce at least 2,000 units per year, reaching a critical mass to support Massachusetts’ first prefabricated construction factory that would lower costs while increasing quality control. Stay tuned for updates.

The pilot projects have been complemented by multiple panel discussions, lectures, and other presentations developed by the BSA community with the BSA Foundation, which will continue throughout the year (and beyond). A few examples include:

We are now at a turning point; at the national level, equity of opportunity has become front page news. Regionally, a series of cities are reconsidering their planning and zoning for the first time in decades as a building boom continues to heat up. Government, developers, corporations, institutions, contractors, unions, and advocacy organizations all realize that we need to build a consensus around common sense housing solutions. And once insular communities are beginning to realize that the next generation won’t have the opportunities of the last one unless they are willing to accept change. The BSA and BSA Foundation are taking the lead to:

  • promote wider understanding of the Boston area’s middle-income housing crisis;
  • share knowledge about the diverse forces that affect production and costs while introducing ways to disrupt present systems;
  • involve communities in solutions; and
  • lead the Commonwealth toward a less polarized future.