2016 Greater Boston Housing Report Card | City of Ideas

Posted 11/29/2016 by Rebecca Koepnick, Director, Neighborhoods and Housing, The Boston Foundation

These challenges have hardly gone unnoticed.  Communities like Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville have been focused on boosting the supply of housing. Further, state legislators and affordable housing advocates tried, albeit unsuccessfully, last session to change local zoning practices that squelch housing development.

Despite these efforts though, the new report card estimates that 2016 will conclude with an 18% drop in housing permits.  And most of the decline in permits is for multifamily housing with five or more units, driven in large part by declines within the City of Boston. 

With permits having steadily increased since 2009, its unclear if this decline represents a temporary blip or if developers are slowing down production as the luxury market has become saturated. 

Given the enormous demand for housing (evidenced by a rental vacancy rate of 3.4% and average asking rents at an all-time high of $2,619), if the cost of developing housing is so high that developers cease to develop the region's inner core, it would be an unfortunate side effect of the Commonwealth's booming economy.

Interestingly, among the communities with the highest number of building permits in 2016 are Billerica, Newton, Burlington, and Melrose. Perhaps the decline in permits in the core actually signals a shift toward development in suburbs, towns, and smaller cities? Only time will tell. But if this is a trend it does beg the question of whether or not millennials, for whom access to transit is critically important, will continue to fuel the economic growth of the region if housing options that are affordable are further out from the core.  

The “trouble with growth” could become “no housing, no growth.”


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