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Developer proposes building with tiny apartments in the Fenway

Architect's rendering for 72 Burbank St. in the Fenway

A Cambridge company has filed plans to replace a small parking lot at 72 Burbank St. in the Fenway with a six-story building housing 36 "Compact Living residential rental units," none more than 673 square feet in size.

Forest Properties Management, which owns the adjoining 91 Westland Ave. building the parking lot now serves, says the small size of the units - ranging from about 358 square feet for a studio to 673 square feet for a two-bedroom apartment - are aimed at meeting new "design quality standards for compact living units" now being developed by the city's Housing Innovation Lab.

The compay says the smaller sizes means it can rent all but five of the units to people making between $85,000 and $120,000 a year. The other five units will be set aside for rental as "affordable," because $85,000 is above the area median income for a single person.

New constructed apartments in downtown Boston with this level of affordability are virtually non-existent.

Forest says it will prevent claustrophobia in the small units through steps such as replacing traditionally bulky kitchen appliances with "slimmer, smaller ones." But, the company says, many urbanites want to trade apartment space for the chance to live in a big city they otherwise might not be able to afford - such as graduate students, young professionals and empty nesters:

Many people are more interested in utilizing their resources to enjoy the urban lifestyle experience than consuming large quantities of living space they do not necessarily need.

The building would have no parking spaces. The company says this will help shrink the city's carbon footprint - along with eliminating the parking lot now used for 91 Westland Ave. and energy-efficient building practices and appliances. Forest notes the building is near several Green and Orange Line stations and bus routes and cites the Ruggles commuter-rail and bus station and says the Back Bay and the South End are within walking distance.

In addition to the BPDA, the project will need approval of the zoning board.

72 Burbank St. small-project review application (24M PDF).

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Comments

The hot move will be to buy several adjacent units and combine them.

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A rooming house for the well-off.

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Airbnb?

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I was thinking the same thing. This building is designed with AirBnb in mind.

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That particular building looks like it definitely was designed with AirBnb in mind.

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This will likely be set up with the standard boilerplate condo association documents which forbid short-term rentals like air BNB.

Many banks take a very dim view of cutting mortgages in condo buildings which do not have these restrictions in place and do not enforce them. That's why most of the units being turned into hotels are cash sales and often entire buildings. It can be difficult to get a mortgage in a building that does not have lower limits on owner occupancy.

It can probably be deed restricted as well - and probably should be deed restricted to prevent other than occasional year by year lease.

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They needed the extra space.

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I am assuming these units are being targeted to singles given the area. My last condo was 1150 sq feet and I lived in less than half that. I was quite comfortable.

There is a housing crunch. People can't afford to buy places near their jobs. But if units like this make it affordable again, Im all for it.

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(n/t)

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Right now we've got 3-4 20-something young professionals living together in an apartment appropriate for a family. It's not that they all love roommates -- it's that they need to find housing they can afford.

To the extent that the mini units reduce demand for 3 BR apartments, they take some pressure off of family housing, which does help hold down the price increases.

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.. The going rate for a bedroom in a 3-4 bedroom apartment is around $1000/month. If these new units are priced at $1000-- heck, even kick them up to $1500 for added privacy and likely better property condition-- then yes, they'll draw from the crowd currently renting bedrooms. As is laid out in a comment below, it's unlikely these units will go for under $2000, and will probably be closer to $2500.

Plus, the 4 bedroom student apartments are often badly carved up family housing where every space that isn't a bathroom or kitchen has been turned into a bedroom. Even if micro units lowered the demand for bedroom renters, I find it unlikely that the slum-, I mean, landlords will renovate their multi-bedroom places so that they're appropriate for families again, and lower the $4000/month rent so that a family could live there. It seems more likely they would just lower the per bedroom rent a bit, or, if they can get away with it, do airbnb.

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.. But if these are marketed to the $85K- $120K crowd, they aren't doing anything to increase the inventory of affordable units. Any guesses as to what the rents will be? (I did scan the doc, didn't see it)

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Typical calculation goes like this: Rent should be no higher than 1/3 of your income.
So with the exception of the 5 "affordable" units I would expect these studios to start around $2300-$2500 a month. That's $85k divided by 3 (one third) divided by 12 (months). That's in line with similar housing found in the Seaport district.

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I don't think the 1/3 rule is appropriate for Boston. You spend more on housing, less on transportation. Didn't someone do a study and determine it's common to spend over 40%?

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If you spend 30% on housing, save 10% for retirement, that leaves 60% for taxes and life. And that assumes you don't have other debt or other things like a home purchase or a wedding or kids to save for.

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Just because one is single without children does not mean that you live like a 19 yr. old frat boy sleeping on a futon. Stop rationalizing greedy developers screwing over working people in Boston.

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You're confusing tiny studio apartments with 4-bedroom apartments commonly found in Allston.

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But if you think "greedy developers" are going to disappear and affordable apartments in Boston are going to become a thing, you are living in a dream world.

Boston is an expensive city. Land is expensive. Building material is expensive. Labor is expensive. The only thing around here thats cheap is talk.

But keep talking.

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I grew up in that amount of space, laid out as a 3br, with 3 other people.

My husband spent much of his childhood sharing about 750 sq ft with 4 other people.

I own a condo in another city so that a relative can live there (details of what my parents wanted). That condo is 550 sq ft and many of the identical units are inhabited by couples.

These units are not that small per person by comparison.

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This looks like a fun little project. I live the diagrams explaining the facade choices The city needs more small units like this, I hope it gets approved quickly.

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I lived in the Fenway on Queensbury St. in 2006 during college. My studio was about 500sf. Galley kitchen, tiny bathroom, tiny foyer, and an open room with my lofted bed in a nook. Bike Storage and common laundry in the basement. These were built around 1910. If you wait long enough everything comes back into style.

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it makes sense to have a healthy supply of small ("tiny") apartments geared towards students with not many belongings and a no-car lifestyle. They need these places while going to school, they graduate, move up to places with more space later in life when they have families.

The problem, of course, is that the size of the prices is never scaled the same as the apartments or student budgets.

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I had a 320-square-foot studio on Queensberry back in '02-03! We might have been in the same building!

I have a bigger place now and every time I have to clean it I reminisce fondly about being able to clean my entire apartment in under 15 minutes.

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Because small units in pre-war buildings are grandfathered from today's zoning codes.

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1) Scales well with existing neighborhood. +

2) Doesn't look like it came in kit form from Ikea, like every single other new residential development in the past three years. +

3) Fills nearly-useless gap in the street block. +

4) M.C. Escher did a really crappy job on that rendering. -

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You don't like the recycled cardboard look that this gives?

I agree, the rendering is horrible. I can see where they were going with this but it looks horrid on paper.

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I've lived in a 398 ft. studio in the Fenway for 35 years. I did not know I was being innovative. Do I win something?

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But I can almost guarantee that you won't have any room for it in your studio.

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Financial independence!

And if you're an American citizen you are entitled to:
a heated kidney shaped pool,
a microwave oven--don't watch the food cook,
a Dyna-Gym--I'll personally demonstrate it in the privacy of your own home,
a kingsize Titanic unsinkable Molly Brown waterbed with polybendum,
a foolproof plan and an airtight alibi,
real simulated Indian jewelry,
a Gucci shoetree,
a year's supply of antibiotics,
a personally autographed picture of Randy Mantooth
and Bob Dylan's new unlisted phone number,
a beautifully restored 3rd Reich swizzle stick,
Rosemary's baby,
a dream date in kneepads with Paul Williams,
a new Matador,
a new mastadon,
a Maverick,
a Mustang,
a Montego,
a Merc Montclair,
a Mark IV,
a meteor,
a Mercedes,
an MG,
or a Malibu,
a Mort Moriarty,
a Maserati,
a Mac truck,
a Mazda,
a new Monza,
or a moped,
a Winnebago--Hell, a herd of Winnebago's we're giving 'em away,
or how about a McCulloch chainsaw,
a Las Vegas wedding,
a Mexican divorce,
a solid gold Kama Sutra coffee pot,
or a baby's arm holding an apple

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is a fine pistol, Swirly, but I half-figured you for a 1911 kind of gal. Am I wrong?

The other half of me pictures you with a Colt Peacemaker in each hand and a bandolier over each shoulder...and of course a sombrero to put all others to shame.

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But it would probably be a ten-gallon hat.

Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.

(P.S. My Dad had a Mk I for hunting - probably dated to the 1950s or early 1960s. He used it to make sure our game was finished, particularly when bow hunting.)

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Heads'up: Here comes today's longest Uhub comment :)

Only in the US (and maybe Canada and Australia) is 358 Sqft considered "tiny" and “innovative”. In any other countries around the World, lots of people live as good or better lives with much less square footage per person. Not to mention that even in the Boston area, there are tens of thousands of young adults who share a room of half that size or less with non-relatives. A lot of dorm rooms no larger than 180 sqft are occupied by 2 or 3 students. Yet, for some odd reason, once you graduate college (if you ever do), the city of Boston’s wise guys have determined that it's not good for you to live in anything smaller than 450 sqft. That’s the current minimum dwelling size for new construction in the City, and it is over twice as large as the International Building Code minimum of 220 sqft/dwelling. Can't afford a $2000+ 450 sqft rental? Tough luck; the city planner would rather see you live in a three decker with housemates for the rest of your life. I know what I am talking about; that's how I've lived the better part of my adult life. I call this the Boston urban planner’s version of “let them eat cake”.

One big disappointment with this project –and all other Boston micro-units built in recent years- is that except for the mandated 13% (five) “affordable” units (i.e. $1500 a month), they are as expensive as the more traditional housing stock. Based on the developer’s $85 to $120k income target clientele, it means that the rent for the 31 non-affordable units will start around $2500 a month. Much better results could be achieved if the city encouraged the development of smaller units, no parking requirement and much higher density in exchange for much greater affordability.

For those who are into this topic, there is an excellent 15 minutes video on Youtube about Providence’s historic Arcade Mall. Five years ago, a developer redeveloped the upper floors of that building into 48 units of housing. Half of them include a living area of 225 sqft and a monthly rent in the $700 to $800 range. Other units are larger and pricier. The developer reports that the smallest units are far more popular than the larger (and more expensive) units, attesting to the high demand for smaller and more affordable housing options. And this is not just for hard-partying millennials; the tenants featured in the video are grown up people who seem as smart and well-rounded as anyone I know.

Link to the video:
https://youtu.be/HmL2l-bcuUQ

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That the “residents” of these tiny units, in a tourist destination, are people who actually live Boston but take the, ahem, Fast Ferry out every Friday and back every Sunday night, right? The unique demographics behind this (not that there’s anything wrong with that) hardly mark this as a good template housing solutions.

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that you are making some crazy assumptions.

Only gay people who go to Provincetown on the weekends live in small apartments? Who knew?

That will surprise many students and young professionals living in Fenway/Kenmore, Cambridge, Beacon Hill, North End and Allston. My mother started out in a basement studio on Newbury Street back in the day...

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Maybe you miswrote it, but I don't see how you get a "big disappointment with this project" from the fact that these tiny units are as expensive as larger units.

First, the final sales price is set by market value, not by the developer. Second, it would be more logical to be "pleasantly surprised" that these small units are valuable. Instead of being disappointed by this project, you ought to be disappointed by other projects that are building larger units, therefore wasting space with lower density.

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Indeed these units are expensive precisely because we aren’t building enough of them. It turns out there are a lot of people in Boston making $85k+ who are currently living with roommates but would prefer to live in a place like this (I know because these people are the junior software developers at my workplace). If we really want these units to be affordable, we have to build a lot more of them so that there aren’t 10 junior software developers bidding on each unit.

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These units are not that bad. I wish the exterior matched the surrounding buildings but meh. I'd rather have some small units like these than two gigantic units owned by one or two people.

And like a poster above said, this is not new to this area. Over my time living in this area, I knew alot of people who lived in those buildings along quesenberry/parkdr/boylston etc .Especially when I moved here in the late 90s, as that area wasn't too gentrified yet (Kenmore was cleaning up), and you could still rent one of those units for super cheap. (vaguely remember them being < 1k)

They were all very tiny apartments. All very similar as described by the poster above (1 living space, galley kitchen, bathroom, hallway, and maybe a small closet). And yes, all grandfathered pre-war buildings. Code would never allow them today.. too bad. It was a way to build very dense units.

I myself lived in a ex-rooming house in the SoEnd that had been converted to 2 room studios. I think the place was ~600-700 sq feet. Plenty of room for 1 person (or 2), providing you didn't mind just something in every spot in your place. (my place was very packed..very)

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Looks ok but the best example of micro apartments I've seen is in Providence. A small "mall" was converted to micro units, but kept retail on the first floor so you don't need to leave the building to get something to eat, get a hair cut, etc. Ate in one of the restaraunts a few months ago and since the building has an atrium all the units face it and seems like it promotes socializing between units more than a hallway does. Not sure about the prices but Providence is generally cheaper than Boston.

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I work for a large tech company downtown that hires a lot of young folks straight out of college. I see them constantly advertising for a single bedroom out of three or four in a Back Bay apartment. I know there has to be a demand for simple, basic dormitory-style rooming houses, single-occupancy rooms with shared baths and kitchens and common areas.

A number of these close to downtown could really do a lot to help young single workers, which in turn would take pressure off of two- and three-bedroom apartments and make them more affordable for families.

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Yes! Please write your city councilor and tell them this. THIS is where most of our family apartments are going and people just don't seem to accept the scale of it.

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It can be difficult to leave an abusive (or just bad) relationship in this city, because there's no where to move to. Rooming Houses would really help this problem.

It would help people who are just moving here and want some time to get to know the city before they lease an apartment for a year. Or they come in January and moving day is as we know September 01.

It would be a lifeline to people who have to leave their current apartment (rent gets too high, roommate problems, they're going to be moving in with their partner in a month but their lease runs out this month).

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in my opinion...

these units are only geared towards students - real grownups can't build real lives in spaces this small, not if the ever want to raise a family, which many do

Forest Properties is also the outfit that colluded with Berklee College of Music, buying up all of Clearway Street and throwing out all the long term residents and putting Berklee students into place, to pave the way for Berklee's secret master plan, which plans to take over everything between Boylston Street and the Christian Science Church

the church colluded with Forest Properties and Berklee in the sale

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