The Trouble with Growth: How Unbalanced Economic Expansion Affects Housing The unifying theme of this 14th Greater Boston Housing Report Card is that, in spite of a strong commitment to making housing more affordable in the region and despite a variety of imaginative efforts put forward by the Commonwealth and the City of Boston, housing supply is not keeping up with the housing demand of a growing population and, as a result, housing is less affordable than ever.Read More
At the heart of the Boston Foundation’s Civic Leadership formula is the presentation of research that policy makers and the public can rally around. This year’s Greater Boston Housing Report Card is one example. On November 28, the Foundation released its 15th Report Card at a packed forum at the Foundation’s new Edgerley Center for Civic Leadership.
It got people talking, including The Boston Globe, Boston Business Journal, Bay State Banner, other newspapers and WBUR.
Massachusetts’ political leadership has been stepping up and putting its weight behind many of the report’s recommendations. On December 5, a group of 14 metropolitan mayors announced a new Regional Housing Partnership. The next week, Governor Baker unveiled a new Housing Choice Initiative designed to ease permitting and improve incentives to meet the demand for affordable housing.
“Years of dedicated research by primary author Barry Bluestone, coupled with determined advocacy by the Boston Foundation and its partners, have helped create an environment where major policy changes are on the table at the state level,” said Keith Mahoney, the Foundation’s Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs.
Bluestone is a Boston Foundation Fellow and Professor of Political Economy at Northeastern University. He and James Huessy wrote the report, which reviews the state of permitting, building, vacancies, rents, sales, population and other data—all in the context of a booming local economy. That boom is both a blessing and a curse to the housing situation, especially as economic growth is skewed toward the top. Bluestone presented the findings at the forum, including promising trends such as a possible stabilizing of rents and increased permitting. He also pointed out worrisome phenomena, such as the prices in low-income neighborhoods going up at a faster rate, threatening to displace current residents, and low permitting outside of Boston.
That last concern gave the report its title, Ideas from the Urban Core: Responsive Development as a Model for Regional Growth. It found that the City of Boston has granted nearly 60 percent of the housing permits issued for buildings of five or more units in 2017 in the five-county Greater Boston area, and over 41 percent of all new housing permits the same year, nearly double its share five years ago. The city has benefited from strong demand and a streamlined approval process, which has cut the time needed to secure a permit from 400+ days to just 120.
Considering that Greater Boston will be home to an additional quarter million people in the next 15 years, however, every municipality will have to pitch in on housing—and soon.
Following Bluestone, an impressive panel with expertise in city and state policy was moderated by Keith Mahoney. “There’s never been this assemblage of talent about urban development in one place,” observed Boston Foundation President and CEO Paul Grogan, gesturing to the panel and to the audience. Panelists included:
- Joseph Corcoran, President of Joseph J. Corcoran Company
- Sheila Dillon, Chief of Housing and Director of the Department of Neighborhood Development for the City of Boston
- Chrystal Kornegay, Former Undersecretary for the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development; new Executive Director of MassHousing
- Tamara Roy, Principal at Stantec, and 2016 President of the Boston Society of Architects
Despite the report’s title, it does not recommend the same solutions for every locale. The report and the panel both urged high density near public transportation, including the establishment of “smart growth” areas in more far-flung places under Chapter 40R, and the development and use of new, more efficient, less expensive building practices.
At his second inauguration on January 1, 2018, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh reiterated the report’s findings in saying, “With our city’s population growing even faster and a regional housing shortage adding pressure, too many families are still being priced out of too many neighborhoods. We are determined to meet this challenge by redoubling our efforts.” He reaffirmed his goal of improving the housing situation by 2030, Boston’s 400th birthday, and joining mayors from across Greater Boston in a regional housing plan, with specific numbers to be issued by March: “With new targets driving us forward, a regional plan promising help from our neighbors, and the Legislature working on a housing bond bill, we recommit to making affordable homes a reality for a strong middle class.” He also announced the launch of Boston’s Way Home Fund, a public private collaboration “to end chronic homelessness for good.”
Boston Foundation President and CEO Paul Grogan closed the Housing Report Card forum by expressing a strong sense of confidence in the talent amassed in the city and state to tackle the housing challenge; the remarkable level of cooperation between state and local administrations from different political parties; the strength of the established resources in the public and private sphere; and not least, the fact that our problem is driven by the good fortune of a very robust economy.
Photos by Julia Howard.