Issues of supply, affordability, and equity all contribute to an ongoing housing crisis in Massachusetts. Among U.S. metro areas with knowledge-based industries, metro Boston ranks near the bottom in housing production and near the top on development costs. Due to the latter, production of new affordable housing units has scarcely increased over the past decade. And largely decentralized authority over land use regulations, by 351 cities and towns, does little to foster uniform housing equity standards.
A study by Elise Rapoza and Michael Goodman shows that new housing construction in MA does not have an adverse affect on municipal or school budgets. And when it might, state funding covers the difference. This study contradicts the often heard argument against new housing development, especially multi-family housing, because it, the argument claims, it will have a negative fiscal impact on communities.
In the aggregate, development of new housing offers net fiscal benefit to both municipalities and the state. Additional analysis validates a second study which found that increased housing production does not predict enrollment changes in Massachusetts school districts. In the new study, a distinct minority of municipalities did incur net fiscal burdens—burdens that the net new state tax proceeds associated with the development of new housing are more than sufficient to offset.
In a 2019 study, MAPC found that:
A report by Mass Housing Partnership’s Shelly Goehring looks at Arlington’s housing development history and policies to understand how municipal action and inaction can contribute to housing inaffordability and can limit the population diversity within a community. The report implies that it has been difficult historically for reputable housing developers to work with the regulatory structure within Arlington to get housing built.
Massachusetts has the nation’s 2nd largest gap in homeownership between households of color (31% own homes) and white households (69% own homes).
Data in a Mass Housing Partnership report shows how far behind the Boston metropolitan area has fallen in meeting the housing needs of its citizens. There are four primary categories for measuring the inadequacies: 1. Availability, 2. Affordability, 3. L0cation and Mobility and 4. Equitability. See the full report for more data and examples. Two slides are shown below.
This report shows a number of great, livable neighborhoods in communities like Lexington, Cohasset, Great Barrington, etc. where under the municipality’s “official” zoning, the neighborhoods would be illegal and could not exist. These are neighborhoods that residents enjoy for a variety of special characteristics that would have been blocked in typical zoning. Zoning can result in a too homogeneous community, excluding the serendipities of co-location in a land use development process evolving over a great many years. Can we anticipate these synergies and include them to enrichen our town’s neighborhoods?
Good news? On housing? In Massachusetts?
Yes, that’s right. Even here in the land of the $600,000 starter home, a few forward-thinking cities and towns are starting to make progress on what sometimes seems like an intractable problem: the inadequate production of new housing that has sent the cost of renting or buying in Greater Boston into the stratosphere.
(This post originally appeared as a one-page handout, distributed at The State of Zoning for Multi-Family Housing in Greater Boston.)
This chart shows the assessed value of Arlington’s low density housing from 2015–2019 (assessed values generally reflect market values from two years prior). During this time, home values increased between 39% (single-family homes) and 48% (two-family homes). Most of the change comes from the increasing cost of land. As a point of comparison, the US experienced 7.7% inflation during the same period. (1)
Why Is This Our Issue & What Should We Do About It?
(presented by Adam Chapdelaine, Town Manager, to Select Board on July 22, 2019)
Since 1980 the price of housing in Massachusetts has surged well ahead of other fast growing states including California and New York. While the national “House Price Index” is just below 400, four times what an average house might have cost in 1980, a typical house in Massachusetts is now about 720% what it was in 1980. Median household income in the state has only increased about 15% during the same period. No wonder people in Arlington are feeling the stresses of housing costs if they want to live here and are feeling protective of the equity value time has provided them if they bought years ago.
(published June, 2019)
To solve the extraordinarily large deficit in housing for the greater Boston region, over 180,000 units of new housing should come on line in the next few years. This deficit is the result of a rapid expansion in in-migration due to new job creation, with no commensurate increase in housing production for the people taking those new jobs.
The report concludes that zoning is a primary culprit in restricting the development of an adequate housing supply, creating a “PAPER WALL” keeping out newcomers. The cost of this inadequate supply is a huge demand for housing which, in turn, bids up the price for available housing. The following “culprits” are considered: inadequate land area zoned for multi-family housing; low density zoning; age restrictions and bedroom restrictions; excessive parking requirements; mixed use requirements and approval processes. Alternative zoning models are suggested.