The Boston region is in the midst of a housing crisis. In the communities that make up the Inner Core of the Boston metro region, one in 10 homeowners and one in four renters pays more than half of their income on housing. Inadequate housing production harms everyone – forcing up rents and home costs, causing overcrowded homes and apartments, leading to long commutes that add traffic to our roads, and making companies and workers think twice about moving here.
That’s why local and state government officials came together in December of 2017 to come up with ways to address the region’s housing crisis. On Tuesday, Oct. 2, the mayors and managers of the Metro Mayors Coalition announced a landmark housing production goal: 185,000 new units by 2030 in their 15 communities.
“Housing pressures don’t go away once you get a few miles outside Boston and we expect our population to keep growing. This is something that will strengthen our communities for generations to come,” said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh at a press conference announcing the housing target. “This is big. It’s ambitious.”
The Metro Mayors Coalition (MMC) – a 15-municipality coalition of cities and towns representing 1.5 million people – has worked since last December to establish housing targets and to agree on a set of 10 principles to guide future housing development and preservation. The cities and towns in the coalition include Arlington, Boston, Braintree, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Newton, Quincy, Revere, Somerville, and Winthrop, and the coalition is staffed and convened by MAPC.
Since 2010, the 15 cities and towns of the Metro Mayors Coalition have added almost 110,000 residents and 148,000 new jobs while permitting only 32,500 new housing units. MAPC projects that the communities will add 235,000 new jobs from 2015 to 2030. This economic growth and the retirement of baby boomers will bring hundreds of thousands new workers to the region.
“Housing supply is not keeping up with demand,” said MAPC Executive Director Marc Draisen. “Robust economic growth will attract hundreds of thousands of [new workers to fill an anticipated 235,000 new] jobs. Seniors want to stay in their communities. We need to accommodate [all of these interests].”
To come to the new target, MAPC looked at economic growth and commuting scenarios. The estimate assumes that growth will continue at the 2008 – 2016 rate of 1.4 percent per year and that a growing share of these new workers will want to live close to their jobs (the share of people living close to their work has climbed steadily upward since 2000).
The production target is based on estimates that 115,000 new working households will move to the region by 2030 and there will be 50,000 new non-working households, mostly due to the retirement of Baby Boomers. An additional 20,000 units would help achieve a healthy vacancy rate, translating to fewer bidding wars over available units.
In a compact and at the press conference, the mayors and town managers stressed the importance of building a diversity of housing types. Our region needs housing that works for everyone: renters, homeowners, students and young homebuyers, empty nesters and seniors looking to downsize, individuals, couples, and people with children.
There are “1.5 million residents represented here that deserve housing stability,” said Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone. “We are committing publicly to ambitious goals. Our region is in the midst of a housing emergency.”
The agreement also stresses the importance of providing housing for vulnerable residents, including people with disabilities and low- and moderate-income households. Undersecretary Janelle Chan of the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development stressed this point in her remarks, pointing out that we need to cater to a diverse set of residents.
The regional housing commitment and 10 guiding principles for housing creation are captured on MAPC’s Housing Metro Boston website. These principles include values related to stakeholder and municipal engagement, housing production, housing preservation, housing affordability, housing stability, fair housing, housing design, housing location, and complete neighborhoods.
The website also includes a housing strategies toolkit with over 100 strategies the MMC Regional Housing Task Force identified while examining local and national case studies and best practices. The strategies can be sorted by strategy type and which principles they advance. The toolkit is meant to serve as a digital repository and go-to resource for residents, advocates, municipal staff, elected officials, community leaders, and others.
These housing strategies aren’t just about building new units. To add to the housing stock, we can also adapt existing structures, build accessory dwelling units, get investment properties and short term rentals back on the market, and build more dorms to free up units rented by students.
Adding 185,000 new homes to the region’s housing stock won’t be simple. This will require strong support – from residents, community leaders, business leaders, and governments. We’ll need good governance, good planning, more affordable units, and protections for tenants. But what are we waiting for? Let’s get started.