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The Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2019

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Authors: Alicia Sasser Modestino, Clark Ziegler, Tom Hopper, Calandra Clark, Lucas Munson, Mark Melnik, Carrie Bernstein and Abby Raisz

Continuing a longstanding partnership with the Boston Foundation, Dukakis Center associate director Alicia Sasser Modestino, as well as colleagues from the Boston Foundation, the MHP Center for Housing Data and the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute have published the 16th Greater Boston Housing Report Card.

The Executive Summary states the following highlights:

Housing Supply

  • Greater Boston hasn’t been permitting enough housing to meet its needs since the 1980s. That gap has significantly widened since the Great Recession as new housing has failed to keep up with rapid job growth and increasing population.
  • Recent housing production is concentrated in a small number of cities and towns. In the last five years more than 43 percent of the multifamily housing permitted in the entire Commonwealth was in the city of Boston.
  • Multifamily development is increasingly concentrated in cities and towns served by the MBTA subway system but not in communities served by MBTA commuter rail, where stations are typically surrounded by low density housing.
  • If the region is able to sustain the peak post-recession permitting levels achieved in 2017, housing production will be sufficient to achieve the governor’s 135,000 unit housing production goal but insufficient to support projected growth in new households.

Conclusions and Policy Discussion

  • Three persistent challenges have faced the region for decades: insufficient housing supply, lack of housing affordability, and inequity in access to housing. These interrelated issues call for a variety of policy solutions, offering several areas of opportunity for improving the region’s housing market.
  • To address supply, measures such as the governor’s Housing Choices legislation would be a good first step—but not a silver bullet. A multipronged approach of state-level requirements and incentives to counter the inertia of local municipalities’ “home rule” could help increase the production of higher-density housing, small multifamily buildings, and accessory dwelling units while discouraging frivolous objection to new development.
  • To address the affordable housing shortage, devoting additional federal and state resources to housing development and low-income rental assistance is critical—as is making the best use of existing resources. Inclusionary zoning has worked in Boston and Cambridge and should be extended to other cities and towns where economically feasible.
  • Among policies that might move the needle to improve equity in housing access is the development and expansion of state housing finance programs that promote upward mobility, (e.g., mortgage products targeting historically underserved borrowers) and construction of affordable housing in all types of communities. Another is strong enforcement of state and federal fair housing and antidiscrimination laws. We encourage the state attorney general to review and address potentially discriminatory rules or practices.

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