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Feeling boxed in? Boston reportedly has the smallest homes

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To put Boston’s small space in perspective, it’s less than half the size of the median living area of Colorado Springs, Colo. Adobe Stock

You’re not imagining things: It really is a tight, frustrating squeeze self-isolating in Boston during the novel coronavirus pandemic. A new report from the listings and research site Point2Point confirms it.

That report, which mined the site’s internal data, found that of the 50 largest American cities and boroughs, Boston had the smallest median living space at 1,127 square feet — or the size of perhaps a typical two-bedroom in the city.

Boston fared a little better — but still poorly — when the report accounted for lot sizes, not just living space.

Such statistics matter, of course. Residents hanging in and close to home to stem the coronavirus spread have only their homes and environs with which to occupy themselves — and their relatives and roommates — most of the time. Escape is futile.

“[I]n this new world,” the Point2Point study noted, “the happiest people increasingly seem to be those who have a garden, a backyard, a terrace, or even a small balcony.”

Philadelphia finished second in the living space ranking with a median of 1,260 square feet, and Detroit was third with 1,272. The tightest borough in New York was Staten Island at 1,472 square feet, though Manhattan was not included in the analysis due to a dearth of data.

To put Boston’s small space in perspective, it’s less than half the size of the median living area of Colorado Springs, Colo., which was the largest of the 50 cities and boroughs surveyed: 2,930 square feet. North Carolina’s capital, Raleigh, was second at 2,451, and Tulsa finished third with 2,308.

Interestingly, as beefy as some of these living spaces might be, they’re actually in line with what many Americans expect — something Bostonians used to snugger living quarters might sometimes forget. The median square footage of new single-family homes in the United States in early 2019 was 2,355, for example, according to census data the National Association of Home Builders analyzed.

Doubly interesting is that that median size grew coming out of the last recession, when half of newer single-families ran less than 2,100 square feet. That’s apparently what happens after economic downturns — home buyers’ confidence returns, especially if they didn’t take a big financial hit.

“Typical new home size falls prior to and during a recession as home buyers tighten budgets,” an NAHB analysis said, “and then sizes rise as high-end home buyers, who face fewer credit constraints, return to the housing market in relatively greater proportions.”

It remains to be seen whether that will happen coming out of this economic downturn, which is already proving so much more severe than the last one in 2007-2009. In the meantime, Boston residents can at least take solace in the fact that their self-isolating chambers are not so small when their immediate surroundings are included.

The median lot size in Boston is 6,600 square feet, according to Point2Point. That’s bigger than 14 other cities — but nowhere near the roomiest like Raleigh (15,682 square feet), Virginia Beach (13,503), and Atlanta (12,700). These cities are a lot less dense than Boston, which has 13,800 people per square mile, making such expansive lots much more possible.

Bostonians might also find comfort from knowing their households on average are smaller, however slightly, than the national size. According to the most recent census data, the average Boston household has 2.37 people. Nationally, it’s 2.52. Still.

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