by Gregory O. Minott
Affordable living options are in high demand, particularly in urban areas. In Boston, triple-deckers (or three-deckers) once provided an economical homeownership option with the building owner living in one unit while renting the other units to family members or other tenants. Many triple-deckers have been converted to individual condos, but a new homeownership option that embraces the traditional triple-decker family living model is on the rise.
The design centers around a two- or three-bedroom townhouse stacked above a smaller, ground-floor unit, with a shared exterior entrance and common hallway linking unit doors. Each unit can function independently, with private bathroom, kitchen, laundry, and outdoor areas, but the welcoming feeling of one large home can easily be created by opening the connecting doors.
The potential exists for a range of multigenerational living arrangements, whether supporting young adults just beginning their careers or housing aging parents. The smaller unit could also serve as an economic engine, contributing to the financial well-being of a family by functioning as a live/work space to house a small business or as a rental unit for additional income.
Unlike two- and three-family options favored by past generations, this new urban housing model offers a range of unit sizes and configurations to match a variety of households and phases of life and can be recreated on a larger scale with clusters of multigenerational multifamily buildings arranged to create walkable, family-friendly neighborhoods.
24 Westminster Avenue
DREAM Collaborative, winner of a pilot Housing Innovation Competition as both designer and developer, is testing this unique multigenerational housing concept at 24 Westminster Avenue in Roxbury with the transformation of a long vacant, 10,000sf parcel into a moderate-density multifamily development. In 2017, the mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab, Department of Neighborhood Development (DND), Garrison Trotter Neighborhood Association (GTNA), and the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) solicited proposals to address rising housing prices and create more middle-income housing, and sought an efficient, compact module design that could be adapted to fit various in-fill sites around the city.
DREAM Collaborative’s winning design features 12 units that can be purchased in pairs to function as a family’s living space plus an in-law suite or investment rental property, or sold as separate condos to different owners. The contemporary, sustainable, and highly efficient units promote community and cooperative living with a range of sizes to match a variety of households, from single-person households to the traditional family model to an extended family arrangement.
Designed to meet LEED Gold, Energy Star protocols will be applied throughout, including specialty roofing to reduce heat island effect, Energy Star appliances, water sense plumbing fixtures, energy-efficient windows and lighting fixtures, and a thoughtful interior layout to maximize daylighting. The wood-framed building will be solar-ready and feature integrated smart home technologies for comfort and convenience as well as efficiency. The transit-oriented development is conveniently located near public open space and a variety of community resources, encouraging the use of public transportation, shared vehicles, walking, and biking, with limited onsite parking spaces available for purchase.
DREAM Collaborative envisions this creative design solution functioning as a prototype for future residential development ventures throughout Boston. It reflects how people live today and reinforces the benefits many first-generation families realize by consolidating their households. It also responds to the renewed entrepreneurial spirit of the gig economy and provides opportunities for investment and wealth creation.
Multigenerational living arrangements provide families with affordable home ownership and an appealing opportunity to maintain a strong connection between generations. Developing multifamily buildings to accommodate multiple generations provides flexible, economical housing choices to help cities like Boston overcome housing challenges.
Gregory O. Minott,, AIA, LEED AP, is the managing principal at DREAM Collaborative, an urban redevelopment architecture and planning firm.