Types of Housing in Boston
Because Boston is such an old city, there is a tremendous variety of housing types available to its aspiring residents. From brownstone row houses to apartment complexes, multi-family homes to modern lofts, Boston can offer every type of lodging you could ever want. However, the trick to finding housing in the city is to know where to look to find the type of housing you like at a price that will fit your budget. Below are brief descriptions of the types of housing available in the city and where you might expect to find each one. None of these housing options is ‘better’ than any other – they each offer different things to prospective tenants.
Brownstones/Victorian Row Houses
A brownstone is a short, generally four- or five-story building made of brown or red stone brick. This style of building, built mostly in the 1800s, is easy to recognize because of the distinct bowing of the street-facing fronts, the red brick, and older architectural detailing like engraved wooden baseboards. They are sometimes called “row houses” because developers would build a number of identical-looking brownstone units next to each other on the same street. Brownstone buildings are amongst the oldest housing stock in Boston, and are located in many of the most desirable neighborhoods. However, some of the more modern conveniences of apartment complexes – like laundry facilities on premises, easy-to-access internet ports, and central air-conditioning – are harder to find in these older buildings. Brownstone floor plans are rarely uniform, and each building’s interior can vary tremendously compared to its neighbors. Also, many brownstones are not handicap accessible.
Locations: Prominent in Beacon Hill, Back Bay, parts of Fenway/Kenmore and Roxbury. The South End is the largest Victorian Landmark district in the U.S., so its predominant housing stock is Victorian brownstones.
While Boston does not have as many high-rise apartment complexes as New York or Chicago (a number of the city’s neighborhoods passed zoning ordinances that limited how tall a building could be), it does boast a fair selection of large apartment complexes. The facilities in these buildings are definitely more modern than most brownstones and have more access to conveniences like central air conditioning, climate control, and laundry. Most of the recently built apartment complexes are luxury units and tend to be more expensive than similar sized apartments in other types of housing as a result. Apartment complexes usually offer a mix of studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments. Higher occupancy units are rare.
Locations: Downtown Boston has the largest selection of large-style complexes, although usually each neighborhood has one or two big facilities. The Fenway neighborhood is emerging as a new premier location for large apartment complexes.
Small Apartment Buildings
Compared to the larger apartment complexes, small apartment buildings in Boston are much more numerous. Often managed by a small property owner or management company, these buildings have a few units – between five and 15 or 20, and offer a good balance between the architectural beauty and historical feel of brownstones while providing the modern convenience of an apartment building. Many apartment buildings will have laundry on premises. Like the larger apartment complexes, most of these buildings offer studios and one- and two-bedroom units, although three- and four-bedroom units exist as well. Along with houses, small apartment buildings are probably the most common type of housing in Boston.
Locations: Small apartment complexes dominate the Allston housing market, as well as certain sections of the Fenway/Kenmore area and parts of Roxbury. Small apartments are the most common rental housing in the city.
In many of the more residential and suburban sections of Boston, multiple-family houses are the dominant housing option. For a student population, this type of unit offers the most physical space of any of the housing described here and is usually the easiest in which to arrange a multiple-occupancy living arrangement. Many home-owners or landlords will rent one floor of a multiple-family house to a group of four or five students. Houses can offer a number of advantages including: space, a more comfortable and homelike feel, parking, and the ability to host guests and visitors much more easily than in an apartment. They also tend to be the most pet-tolerant. However, rental opportunities in houses are almost always high-occupancy situations, so if you are interested in looking into renting a house, make sure you’ve found some reliable roommates ahead of time. Also, in many homes, you will be responsible for paying all or part of the heating bill, which can get expensive in the winter.
A number of the short-term housing options in Boston are homestays – rental situations where tenants share a portion of a house with the family that lives there. In most cases, the tenant has access to his or her own bathroom and bedroom, but uses the family’s kitchen and living room spaces. This type of housing is fairly common for international students doing rotations or short-term stays.
Locations: Jamaica Plain, Dorchester, South Boston, Brighton, Roslindale, West Roxbury and Hyde Park. Very difficult to find in the South End, Back Bay, or the Allston Village section of Allston/Brighton. Homestays are common in nearby suburbs like Newton.
A condominium is an apartment for purchase. Condos can be very similar to the types of rooms you will find in an apartment complex, although the buildings they inhabit can vary tremendously. Typically, a developer will find an apartment building, upgrade the individual units, and then sell them as condos. As a result, the units are often of slightly higher quality offering more conveniences and are more expensive to rent than an apartment in a similar building. Since condominiums are usually offered for purchase and not for rent, if you find a condominium for rent, there is a good chance that you would be renting directly from the owner of the property. Condos may offer parking and will often have laundry in the facility.
Locations: South Boston, certain areas in the South End, Downtown and Back Bay have a large number of condos, and are more likely to see condos that owners have opened up to rent. Condos are common throughout Boston.
For those interested in a slightly less traditional living environment, the Boston area does feature a number of different housing co-operatives. Generally, housing co-ops are groups of like-minded people who have all agreed to live in a building together under certain guidelines. These can range from living an organic or green lifestyle to being continually active in local civic organizations. Prospective tenants for most co-ops need to contact the co-op organization and schedule a time to meet with one of the current tenants to see if they would fit in with the co-op culture. Co-ops can range in size from just a handful of people to larger groups with several dozen members. As far as buildings are concerned, co-ops are not quite a different “style” of housing – the type and interests of the tenants are what determines a co-op, rather than the type or size of the actual housing itself.
Locations: Co-ops can be hard to track down. For a good reference to finding one, visit: www.Bostoncoop.net. Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, and other suburban neighborhoods tend to have more co-ops than the more centralized and urban neighborhoods.