How do we make Boston living affordable and convenient for young professionals?

One idea is to develop micro-units, or mini apartments, in the downtown area.

Panelists at “Micro-Housing: Rethinking Urban Living,” a forum sponsored by Suffolk University Sawyer Business School and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, explored this idea on March 26.

The talk, moderated by NECN Business Editor Peter Howe, comes as developers are constructing micro-units as small as 350-square feet in the fast-growing Seaport District. So far there are more than 700 units being built on Boston’s waterfront, including the $100 million Boston Wharf Tower, which is under construction on A Street.

Sacrificing Space for Location

In Boston, the average rent is about $4 per square foot of space, said Tamara Roy, senior associate principal at ADD Inc. That’s a big price tag for young professionals just graduating from college.

The idea behind micro-units is that they'll help Boston business attract and retain quality employees.

Michael Glass, senior director of learning and development at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, believes that micro-units will help his company win what he calls the “war for talent.” As Vertex plans to move its headquarters from Cambridge to Fan Pier on the Boston Waterfront, Glass sees the potential in micro-units.

Kelly Saito, president at Gerding Edlen, is a long-time advocate of smaller, more efficient, creatively designed, and strategically located urban housing. Although micro-units are designed for a very specific demographic, that demographic is growing dramatically, he said.

Kairos Shen, chief planner at Boston Redevelopment Authority, believes young professionals will prioritize location over more space, especially if they have access to shared amenities, such as roof decks and gyms, which allow residents to eat, work, and socialize outside of their individual units.

Thoughtful Design that Doesn’t Feel like a Compromise

Karen Clarke, co-director of the Interior Architecture and Design program at New England School of Art and Design, offered a unique perspective. She said the interior space of micro-units should be thoughtfully designed and innovative to make up for a smaller space.

Her students designed several interior themes to assist in marketing the units. They feature creative storage spaces and dual-purpose furniture to make small living more comfortable.

Clarke’s students also helped construct a 300-square-foot micro-unit, designed by ADD, Inc., that served as a backdrop to the panel discussion.

The Future of Micro-Housing

Richard Taylor, executive in residence and director of the Center for Real Estate at Suffolk University, is studying how micro-housing will affect the Greater Boston markets. He’s found that small units are not just about cheaper rent. “It really is an extension of the zipcar, social media, green/eco, digital, and entrepreneurial collaborative generation."

Building Boston 2030

To learn more about the event, visit our Storify page.

The event is the third in a series of Building Boston 2030 public forums on Boston development. The series encourages statewide dialogue on public policies and business considerations that can help Boston continue to create good jobs, attract and retain a skilled workforce, and attract private capital to spur innovation.