Real affordable housing in Boston;
Studio apartments for $750 a month
Introduction to 141westville
While half of Boston residents make less than $35,000 per year, none of the market rate apartments built in recent years are affordable to people in that income range.
Over a third of housing units have only one person and two third of Boston households are two people or less, but only 17 percent of the city’s housing stock is a studio or a one-bedroom.
141westville is designed to address that discrepancy with the goal of providing unsubsidized transit-oriented housing in a lively neighborhood for $750 a month.
The photos showing on this page are from a full scale model of one unit that we built in 2020 for demonstration purposes. That model was then taken apart to make room for the actual building. The project is now under construction and completion is expected in the middle of 2023. We will be taking rental application starting early 2023.
Located in Boston’s Fields Corner neighborhood, the goal of 141westville is to provide the most affordable and most energy efficient unsubsidized housing in the City. It will consist of 14 single occupancy, transit-oriented units to be rented for $750 per month. It will be entirely privately funded and expected to generate enough income to cover the building’s operating expenses and provide a reasonable profit for the developer/owner.
According to a 2016 Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) study, half of City of Boston residents make less than $35,000/year. In 2018, unsubsidized apartments for people at that income level are practically nonexistent in the Boston area.
Providing housing that is affordable to residents earning in the range of $25,000 to $50,000 a year is the primary goal of this project.
The proposal includes 14 studios. Each of the three above ground floors contain four studios of identical size, and there are two garden-level accessible units. The scale of the building is comparable to that of the 3-family house that used to sit at that very location before it was torn down decades ago, and comparable to that of the surrounding triple deckers.
Our goal is to rent all 14 units for $750 a month, including most utilities. Each resident will pay for their electrity.
2 of the 14 units will be accessible.
Rent increases will be no higher than the yearly change in Consumer Price Index. While we intend to remain the owner and manager of the project for years to come, we want the rental units to remain affordable in perpetuity. We will look for the best mechanism to assure that this is the case with all subsequent property owners and caretakers.
The most resource efficient type of housing found in an urban area is car-free, multifamily dwellings with close proximity to amenities and quality public transportation. The address of 141 Westville St is one quarter mile from the Fields Corner Red line T stop and 50 yards from a bus stop with frequent buses on Geneva Ave. There will be no space for car parking on the premises. Adding off-street car parking would encourage more driving, further contribute to congestion and pollution in the city, greatly reduce the number of units that can be built on the lot and make them much more costly to build and rent. Only residents who do not own a car will be allowed to reside at this address. It will be an explicit and non-negotiable lease requirement.
All basic amenities (banks, grocery stores, health center, library, restaurants and other services and retail) are found within an 8 minute walk. Several Zipcars and a Hubway bike share station are also available within that radius. The best amenities that the city has to offer are within a 20 to 30 minutes bike ride. Secure indoor bike storage will be provided along with a bike repair station. Physically active transportation will be strongly encouraged. Priority will be given to applicants whose daily activities are within walking/biking distance or a reasonable transit commuting time of 141 Westville St.
In addition, the building will be super-insulated and equipped with highly energy efficient appliances, ventilation and lighting. The total energy cost per unit (gas + electric) is expected to average $2/day or $60 per month per unit. Heat and hot water will be included in the rent, tenants will pay for their electricity.
The interior finishes include only durable and healthy materials such as hardwood floor and ceramic tiles.
Putting the project into context:
While the Dorchester housing stock consists mostly of 2 to 4 bedrooms homes, the average American household size has been shrinking steadily for the past 50 years. According to a 2013 Boston Redevelopment Authority study, only 32.4% of households have more than 2 people in 2013, down from 49.3% in 1960. Providing new housing better suited to today’s reality and needs is a key component of this project.
Each of the building’s 14 units are designed for single occupancy and offer about 260 to 280 sqft of living space. This includes a full bathroom, a good sized walk-in closet, a compact kitchen and an open floor space of 180 sqft. With an optimal layout, four generous windows on two sides and an open flexible floor plan, the space can feel larger than the square footage implies. Although 260 sqft may seem small by US standard, it is nothing unusual in cities outside North America. It is commonplace for middle class people in prosperous and vibrant cities throughout the World to live healthy, happy and fulfilling lives with less square footage per person.
In 2016, with a business partner, my wife and I opened a small bakery and café in Fields Corner (home.stead café). Even though all our employees earn well above the hourly minimum wage, housing remains a serious concern for most of them. We strongly believe that everyone who works 40 hours a week should be able afford quality housing that’s within a reasonable walking distance or a short public transit commute.
The overarching goal of the 141westville project is to provide the best possible living option to single folks who can’t afford or don’t wish to spend more than $750 a month in housing expenses.
In today’s Boston, the only option at this rent level is to live with multiple housemates in settings that are typically more confined, in increasingly limited supply, and for most adults past their mid-twenties; less desirable. Yet, with such high housing costs, many people with full time jobs are bound to live with housemates well after they complete their school education. Both my wife and I were in this situation for a good number of years. The 141westville housing model is largely based on our personal experience; we designed it as a space we would have been able to afford and would have enjoyed living in prior to be able to afford a home together.
A special thanks to our friend, neighbor, and talented photographer Rafi Sofer who took all the pictures of the model’s interior. You may enjoy more of his work in Dorchester and beyond at facebook.com/mr.distorter
This preliminary rendering shows the overall scale and shape of the building. It is comparable in height and size to the nearby three deckers, and to the three-family home that once stood on the 141 Westville St. lot. More detailed architectural and landscaping drawings will be available shortly.
The local media reports regularly on the severe housing shortage for Boston's lower and medium income households.
Source: Boston 2030 Housing plan
Location efficiency and housing type
The graph above comes from an EPA report titled "Location Efficiency and Housing Type" It clearly illustrates the relationship between household energy consumption and residential development patterns. 141westville will be among the most energy efficient form of housing in the city. The estimated energy use for home and transportation is in the 30-40 MBTU range/year/household, or about half the amount shown in the green bar at the right of the graph. Such low usage is in part due to the fact that the households will be made of one person.
This video was made by filmaker/videographer, friend and neighbor Mushen Kieta. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org