Boston has come up with a solution to its affordable housing crisis: build special communities to get those darn Millennials to stop renting multi-bedroom apartments. A Massachusetts State Senate committee on housing advised in a March report [PDF] that the city should build “Millennial Villages” to entice young professionals (20 to 34 years old) out of housing markets meant for families.
"Between 2000 and 2008-2012, 20-34 year olds were responsible for 73.9 percent of the population growth in the inner core region of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville—more than 24,000 additional young residents,” the report states. “To afford housing, many of these ‘Millennials’ share rented apartment units in what has been the region’s traditional workforce housing stock—‘triple-deckers,’ duplexes, and garden apartments,” driving up the price of those units for both other single professionals and for working-class families, the committee argues. More than half of the city’s renters pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent—qualifying them as “rent burdened.”
How exactly the Boston metro area should go about developing these “Millennial Villages” isn’t clear. The report advises creating “appropriately-sized and priced housing for the 20-34 year olds” as a way to “draw out” young people from three- and four-bedroom apartments in older rental stock, making The Youth sound kind of like a poison that needs to be sucked out. (Some folks might agree with the sentiment.) Achieving such an urban design feat “will require collaboration between developers, architects, builders, the construction trades, universities, teaching hospitals, and state and local government officials,” the committee admits—a tall order.
Boston has already tried to alleviate its housing issues with micro apartments, authorizing developers to create tinier-than-normal units (less than 1000 square feet, with some studios as small as 400 square feet) to increase the supply of readily available, cheap housing, and those types of apartments would no doubt be part of any Millennial-oriented housing plan. The report also calls for some multi-person housing: dorms for students and non-students alike, basically. Perhaps Boston should be trying to woo some co-living startups, which are based on the idea that people will pay a company to rent a bedroom in an amenity-filled urban house with other strangers.
Essentially, the Boston area needs more student housing to support its regular influx of temporary young residents in the form of medical students, grad students, and others attending the city’s 35 institutions of higher learning [PDF]. The city is also a burgeoning startup hub, attracting young workers. While the city is happy to foster an entrepreneurial spirit by designating neighborhoods as “Innovation Districts,” a bunch of rich young coders jonesing to live in a city can drive up rent prices astronomically, as San Francisco has found out in recent years.
But it’s not just young people who could benefit from more urban housing options. A full quarter of the U.S. lives alone, and Americans today are far less likely to be married compared to past decades. Boston (like so many other cities) really does need more affordable housing, and it’s vital to make living in the city possible for families of all sizes and income levels. Just maybe give it a new name, one that doesn’t make being 30 and single sound like a disease that requires you be segregated from the rest of the population.