New Concepts

While many developers are supplying new amenities in more traditional apartment homes—targeting greater community involvement, convenience and security—others are experimenting with alternative formats that in some cases seek to align residents with common interests and in others offer greater independence.
Editorial Director Suzann D. Silverman

Today’s growing array of housing options addresses a variety of needs—and they’re as interesting as they are practical. While many developers are supplying new amenities in more traditional apartment homes—targeting greater community involvement, convenience and security—others are experimenting with alternative formats that in some cases seek to align residents with common interests and in others offer greater independence.

A key factor driving this creative expansion is cost. Housing affordability has increasingly become a concern as rising rents combined with tight vacancies and a focus on building luxury properties has put increasing stress on middle- and lower-income households. Recognizing this, a growing number of developers have identified workforce housing as an undersupplied niche, but they’re being challenged by increasing costs for construction materials and workers. To achieve the goals of both sides, workforce housing must be profitable to build while remaining available at a price point teachers, police, firefighters and others can afford.

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Flexibility is also a factor, as millennials in particular seek housing alternatives that allow them to relocate easily, without having to sublet, break a lease or sell a house. (Millennials, in fact, are less apt to purchase homes than the generations that came before them.)

Combine that with the millennial attraction to more social situations that offer the opportunity to meet others with similar interests and you get the emerging co-living concept—a dorm-like, furnished approach to rental housing that provides individual bedrooms and bathrooms, shared living rooms and kitchens, and even housekeeping and linen service. Sector innovator Ollie and National Development are introducing the concept to the city of Boston with 7INK by Ollie, the co-living portion of National Development’s Ink Block community in the South End. Geared toward younger adults, co-living is also attracting some baby boomers who want freedom to travel in retirement without the responsibility of maintaining a house.

Another small but growing alternative is modular apartments. While it doesn’t currently reduce construction costs, it does improve time to market while making the construction more consistent, since it’s completed in a factory setting. Proponents like West Coast architectural firm AO expect cost savings to follow as implementation picks up and more plants are opened.

Creativity is influencing tax-credit affordable housing options, as well. One example is tiny houses, which condense private living space into 200 to 600 square feet, providing density combined with a more permanent, community atmosphere that has been benefiting formerly homeless and veterans alike. They also pencil for the investor; consultant Joe Basel, who is developing the units and seeking partners around the country, is focused on market return.

As these concepts are refined, others are sure to be introduced as designers and developers seek to fulfill the acute demand for affordable options—a prime illustration that, as the old proverb goes, necessity really is the mother of invention.