There have been many studies on the state of housing in the Commonwealth. What is very clear from these, and the numerous opinion pieces on the subject, is that we have very high barriers to the development of housing in general, and affordable and family housing, in particular. What is also apparent is that the economy cannot fully recover without the support of highly talented, college graduates that continue to leave the state.
Paul McMorrow wrote a column in The Boston Globe on April 24th that lays out the problem. Massachusetts has not been able to keep up with the current housing demand. This results in slower job creation and volatile housing prices. As Paul points out, without sufficient supply, the recovery is going to result, once again, in an explosion in housing prices. According to a report by the Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts, if the current pace of development is maintained, there will be a deficiency in our housing stock of 46,000 units. We are already seeing this problem with an inadequate rental stock, driving rents to record highs.
The problem is rooted in several areas that include “home rule,” large lot requirements, lengthy permitting, frequent appeals, and an anti-children attitude.
- The economic needs of the Commonwealth have been stymied by local regulations that continue to encourage large, expensive homes and discourage the production of more affordable “starter” housing.
- With minimum lot requirements in many towns of 1-2 acres, it is very difficult to economically justify building smaller scaled homes. (Few of these municipalities even offer cluster zoning.)
- Permitting requirements have become more onerous with local rules and special by-laws making the development process longer and more unpredictable.
- Even with local approvals, there are the frequent appeals that delay the start of a project by 1-2 years (sometimes effectively killing the project.)
- Lastly, many housing proposals that would attract families with school age kids are denied at the local level. The often heard justification is that adding any number of children to the system will break the back of the school budget. Oddly, this argument occurs in communities that project future reductions in the school age population. Frequently, it seems that communities would be more welcoming to an asphalt batching plant than to new children.
As Paul McMorrow so eloquently states, “The state’s technology sectors demand steady supplies of young talent. But over the last decade, while the Massachusetts population was growing at a meager 3-percent clip, it lost 9 percent of its 25- to 34-year-olds. These are the recent college graduates and young families that the state’s economic future is built on. They’re also the population that’s most sensitive to the state’s deeply ingrained affordability crisis. And they’re voting with their feet.”
Our future is our young families and our children. It’s time we stop viewing children as the equivalent of toxic waste and start building the housing we need. Otherwise, we will only have ourselves to blame for a failed economy.