While many Millennials are drawn to city centers, they often suffer sticker-shock when looking for an apartment. So, a group of young Northeastern University alumni have developed an approach to apartment construction and urban design that appeals to Millennials' wallets.
Their Millennial Village is an urban community for young professionals made up of modular micro-lofts constructed offsite on a large scale and integrated into a community with ample amenities. The construction of these units is designed to save both time and money. They can be quickly mass-produced nearby, shipped in pieces retrofitted to perfectly fit the dimensions of a standard tractor-trailer, and then assembled onsite. .
Here, MULTIFAMILY EXECUTIVE talks with Chris Marciano, Ryan Matthew, and Mark Munroe, lead designers at studioMAUD, about the team's goal of keeping young college graduates in major metropolitan areas by offering affordable urban housing.
MFE: How did the project come about?
studioMAUD: As many great ideas begin, our body of research surrounding the Millennial Village began with a problem. Over the past 11 years, the cost of apartment rentals in Boston has steadily increased. This is especially hard on the city’s recent college graduates and young professionals. With no viable options, many simply choose to leave.
Boston cannot afford to lose this dynamic, enterprising, and motivated population so in the fall of 2012 we set out to dramatically rethink affordable housing. Fellow students Ryan Matthew and Mark Munroe and I created studioMAUD to look at the existing precedents of reasonably priced housing, specifically micro apartments. We investigated not only the implications of design but also of economics and construction methods.
The primary economic strategy we explored is a practice known as cross-subsidization, a financial tool that allows for a number of units within a development to be subsidized by charging a commensurate rate for the market rate units. Additionally we investigated alternative construction techniques, specifically panelized construction. A 20 percent to 40 percent reduction in construction schedule has been achieved in similar projects, corresponding to significant financial savings.
MFE: What have you learned about this generation while working on this project?
studioMAUD: More college graduates from the Millennial generation are leaving school in greater debt than ever before. The unfortunate corollary is that this generation is subject to an incredibly volatile yet increasingly costly housing market as well.
In such a setting, young professionals are facing significant financial constraints, making the ownership of a single-family home (similar to those which they may have grown up in) more out of reach than ever before. These realities forecast a population that will be decidedly urban-centric. As we begin to acknowledge this shift, we must rethink urban multifamily or mixed-use development in order to better fit the needs of tomorrow’s recent graduates and young professionals.
With the realities of single-family homeownership waning, the adoption of an urban-centric lifestyle not only becomes inevitable, but also preferable. Today’s graduate students and young professionals have an increased desire to be close to central business districts (CBDs) and the increased convenience that comes with them. However, CBDs are becoming increasingly saturated with luxury housing, leaving the growing Millennial population with few truly affordable housing options.
Currently, micro-apartment buildings are receiving lukewarm success rates from San Francisco to Boston simply because they are priced too high for their target demographic. If the micro-apartment model is to succeed, it must include some form of deed restriction and cross subsidization. By providing reasonably priced housing, this model seeks to retain the knowledge capital that Millennials bring to our cities.
MFE: What are the special needs of Millennials and how does micro housing meet them?
studioMAUD: Millennials are often described as being social, selfish, and starving. But, they are also constantly connected within their social circles, largely due to the rise in social media, and this translates to their accommodation preferences. More than previous generations, Millennials tend to be more than happy sharing, at the very least, a living room. In fact some actually prefer it, especially when it corresponds to a cost savings.
However in cities such as Boston, highly dense and high-demand housing routinely prevents those who wish to simply live alone from doing so. We believe that living arrangement should be a personal choice, and so we have designed responsibly priced units that cater to both independent and communal living at one’s discretion. The affordability component stems from efficient manufacturing and creative cross subsidization methods rather than simply rent sharing.
Critical to the programming of the Millennial Village is the way in which common space is distributed throughout the building. The critique of the conventional micro apartment design is that many developments are treating these buildings more like dormitories or residence halls rather than homes. Many buildings include one or two large common spaces, which often go underutilized as these spaces are commonly situated in the extremities of the building.
Instead, the way we have interpreted common space is to take the area typically allocated to these MPRs and divide it into more digestible areas of common space. Depending on the density of the given floor plan, each receives modestly sized common spaces, all with a specifically programmed purpose. For instance, one may be intended for introverted study and relaxation, while the other may be intended for more extroverted socializing and gatherings. On other floors, we have paired two units with an interstitial space that becomes a sort of quasi-living room. This unit type is a favorable option for two Millennials who are more than acquaintances but would still like to maintain a certain degree of independence.
MFE: When will one of your designs be built?
studioMAUD: StudioMAUD has recently been involved in providing the designs for a prototypical development referred to as the Graduate Student Anchored Project (GSAP). The GSAP is a prototype for Millennial Village housing in urban environments conceived by Stephen Thayer Davis, a recent graduate of the MIT Center for Real Estate. He focuses on a housing solution for a particular subset of Millennials that is a particular kind of multifamily or mixed use development that incorporates a component leased to a university or teaching hospital through a master lease arrangement. That component, referred to as a Graduate Student Anchor Tenant, is subleased by such institution to its graduate students and is subject to deed-restricted rental caps designed to ensure affordability for end users. The financial arrangement inherent in the GSAP concept starts from the assumption of a fixed monthly rent rate for the graduate units–revenue which those units’ micro design maximizes on a per square foot basis–and then uses a flexible pro-forma development model to identify areas where direct financial participation from the universities and/or other types of public or private subsidization might be needed to ensure the project’s financial feasibility.
In this model not every unit in the project is considered graduate housing and the financial feasibility relies on intradevelopment cross-subsidization where the market rate units subsidize the graduate units (or vice versa revenue depending on prevailing market conditions on a given development site). The urban environment used to illustrate the GSAP concept in Davis’ thesis is Boston, a city in which private developments master leased by institutions is not a new concept. Northeastern University's East Village, for example, is a dormitory which was privately developed by Phoenix Property Company.
Davis’ prototypical GSAP is designed on the vacant, publicly owned Parcel 9 in Boston and on an adjacent privately owned parcel, both of which are located walking distance from Northeastern University and public transportation. The number of micro apartments is fixed at 102. Seventy of these units were designed to be 398-square-foot studios; 12 are studio-plus units where two units share a common area; and the others are 827-square-foot three bedroom units.
Based on rents paid by graduate students at a Boston University facility located nearby, it is estimated that the graduate units would rent for $900 a month per student. For comparison, prevailing market rate rents for a studio would be closer to $1,600 a month.