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Lego-Like Modular Units Could Help Solve Boston Area's Affordable Housing Crisis

NEWTON (CBS) - Affordable housing is a critical issue that is going from bad to worse in many Massachusetts communities. One developer is thinking outside the box to find a solution.

By 'box' we mean giant prefabricated units that are built off-site and hoisted into place with a crane. They are pieced together like giant Legos, to build what will soon be a hip new apartment complex in Newtonville.

Much of the work happens at a factory in Canada, where workers outfit the boxes with details like bathroom vanities, kitchen counters, even small details like towel bars and backsplashes. Each unit travels by truck through New England to the Newton site.

"It's cheaper, it's faster, higher quality and greener," explained Gwen Noyes of Greenstaxx, the company behind the modular units used in the Newton project.

Boston Next affordable modular housing
One-third of the new units in the Newtonville complex will be affordable housing. (Image: WBZ-TV)

According to Noyes, speed is the key to keeping their costs low. It has allowed them to build the project and offer 23 of the 68 apartments, that's one-third, at an affordable rate.

You might recognize the site of this modular project. It is being built on a municipal parking lot across the street from the Star Market that sits over the Mass Pike. According to Newton Mayor Ruthann Fuller, the project is a win-win because it preserves the public parking underneath the building while providing units at below-market cost.

"In Newton, affordable housing is a major issue. Too many people can't afford to move here and some can't afford to stay," she said.

That is a problem in many communities, and it is particularly tough in Boston. Noyes hopes her company can be part of the solution. She wants to use the modular units to build a modern version of the triple-decker.

"We are proposing that we can build a three-family house, where two of the units are market and they pay for the subsidy which makes the third unit affordable."

Boston Next affordable modular housing
Artist rendering of proposed modular three-family house. (Image: Greenstaxx)

Greenstaxx is submitting an official proposal to the city of Boston to develop a project on city-owned land. Up to 33 percent of the units will be permanently deed restricted into Boston's affordable housing stock.

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