News & Updates

Compact Living two-year pilot program approved

Oct 11, 2018

The Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) approved a Compact Living two-year pilot program, creating clear guidelines for new residential units that are smaller in size than typical units. The new policy aims to increase options for housing in response to growing demand, promote sustainable development, encourage innovation and creative design solutions, and minimize potential traffic resulting from increased density. The pilot program is an important component of Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s updated Housing a Changing City: Boston 2030, which responds to Boston’s population growth by increasing the city’s overall housing goals to 69,000 new units by the year 2030.

“In response to greater demand for efficient and transit-oriented housing, we have seen an increased number of proposals for smaller residential units,” said Director of the BPDA, Brian Golden. “These guidelines will allow us to work with the community to ensure that these new projects best serve residents and neighborhoods.”

The Compact Living Policy, spearheaded by the Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab (Mayor’s iLab), follows a citywide tour of a 385 square foot model compact unit. The feedback received from over 2,000 community members who visited the unit were incorporated into the final guidelines. The Compact Living Guidelines address unit design, shared spaces, and measures to reduce transportation costs and impacts. All projects which fall under the Compact Living Guidelines must go through the BPDA’s Article 80 public review process. To learn more about the requirements and tour a model unit, watch this video:

“Creating affordable housing solutions for Bostonians requires flexibility in housing styles,” said Department of Neighborhood Development Chief of Housing, Sheila Dillon. “Compact living is an innovation in Boston that we want to see happening in the right way to create flexibility that works for everybody. This new policy provides that framework, and I’m very pleased with the work done by the Mayor’s iLab to get us here.”


The design standards outlined in the Compact Living Policy are meant to minimize personal space without reducing livability, and foster resident community through thoughtfully designed interior and exterior shared spaces. Unit interior guidelines prioritize function, storage, and natural light. Shared spaces should foster interaction, provide functional space that would otherwise be located inside a traditional unit, be located on a common path of travel, and be properly managed and maintained.

As units get smaller, good design and natural light become so important,” said Tamara Roy, Principal at Stantec Architecture. “I’m happy to see these guidelines focus on high quality spaces and shared common areas.”

The pilot program will require developments utilizing the guidelines to systematically adopt Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies, in line with the goals outlined in Go Boston 2030 and Imagine Boston 2030. TDM improves mobility and access for residents and reduces congestion by using a formula to ensure that these developments are incorporating strategies to minimize car use, enhance bicycle use, and encourage the use of public transportation.

"By increasing pedestrian amenities, building a system of strategically located protected bike lanes, and working with the MBTA to implement measures to improve services for Boston residents, such as designated bus lanes, the City of Boston is actively working to encourage more people to walk, ride bikes and take public transit to move around the City," said Boston Transportation Commissioner Gina N. Fiandaca. "Linking the Compact Living initiative directly to the mobility goals outlined in Go Boston 2030 and Imagine Boston 2030 will strongly support these ongoing transportation efforts and work to decrease traffic congestion and improve safety for all users of Boston's roadways."

The City of Boston has seen an increase in demand for smaller units and both BPDA and the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) have seen an increase in the number of development applications proposing smaller units. The Compact Living Design Guidelines are intended to provide guidance to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) when they consider projects proposing smaller units. Throughout the two year pilot program, the guidelines will be reviewed to ensure they are helping to meet the goals of the program.

The Compact Living Policy applies to new developments of ten units or more. All developments must comply of the Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP). For more information about the Compact Living Pilot, visit:

The Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab

The Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab is a collaboration between the Department of Neighborhood Development and the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM). The Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics serves as Mayor Walsh's civic innovation group. A City agency that was formed in 2010, New Urban Mechanics pilots experiments that offer the potential to improve the quality of life for Boston residents. The Housing Innovation Lab focuses their work on reducing the cost of housing. To learn more about MONUM, follow the office on Twitter or visit their website. To learn more about the Housing Innovation Lab, follow the office on Twitter or visit their website.

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