Boston Primed to Tackle Housing Issues | City of Ideas

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Posted 12/01/2017 by Paul Grogan, President and CEO

Yesterday we released the 15th annual Greater Boston Housing Report Cardin a packed event at the Edgerley Center for Civic Leadership.

Once again, Barry Bluestone and his team did yeoman’s work, pulling together state and local data on sales, rentals, permits and the general state of our economy - and laid out a possible plan for a new type of development that could meet the needs for the city’s growing millennial and senior populations - a 21st century village of smaller, but mixed units designed to feature and provide elements that create and support community.

The report also noted some of the same issues we have faced in past years. Prices are rising - in Boston and the suburbs. Affordability is an increasing problem. Permits are difficult to obtain and new housing slow to appear - especially in the suburbs. And the housing that does get built is often at a price lower- and middle-income buyers can’t afford.

Yet at the end of the day yesterday, there were four reasons I feel optimistic that our housing challenges are solvable.

We have talent.

On the stage yesterday was a remarkable group - from state and local leaders like Chrystal Kornegay and Sheila Dillon to problem solvers like Tamara Roy and thoughtful community-minded developers like Joseph J. Corcoran. This is a unique moment where innovative thinking and social awareness are coming together to solve a challenging problem.

We have a cooperative environment.

At a time when divisiveness is the rule, we have state and local administrations from different parties who are actually willing to work in concert to address housing issues. It permits a level of thinking and creativity that few if any regions in the country can match.

We have a success-driven problem to solve.

Our housing problem looms large because of our success leveraging our natural resources and intellectual capital to create one of the most vital and dynamic cities in the world. It doesn’t make the housing challenge any smaller, but it is a far better starting point than in the 1960s and 70s when Boston and other urban areas were hemorrhaging population and jobs to the suburbs, and when pessimism about the urban future made it all but impossible to raise any investment capital - even for Faneuil Hall.

We have established strong resources.

Looking around the room, it was exciting to see all the organizations that are ready to tackle the housing issues we face - many of whom we are proud to have supported from their earliest days: CHAPA. The Metropolitan Housing Partnership (now Metro Housing|Boston). Our robust network of CDCs. And so many others. The Foundation has made a long-standing commitment to the issues of housing and neighborhoods and we pledge to continue that support. We must tap into one of our greatest assets - our nonprofits - if we are to find a truly community-based solution to our challenges.

There are no overnight fixes. But compared with when I was working with the City of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development more than three decades ago, there are many more possibilities at our disposal. In the short run, we need to ensure that local, state and federal changes don’t undo our progress and potential. And we need to make smart changes to zoning to ease the burden on those who want to build transit-oriented housing for the future.

But if we can do those things, we can unleash our assets and leverage the renaissance of urban values underway in our region - to address our housing inequality and start to create a region that is open for all to live, work and succeed.

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