Where is Housing for the Middle Income Family?

Thomas Grillo did an excellent job on BBJ’s recent article, “The story behind Greater Boston’s housing bottleneck”.

As rightly pointed out, communities have tightened permitting, making it harder to build and meet the demand for housing in general, and moderately priced and affordable units in particular. Zoning requirements have become more onerous with local rules and special by-laws, making the development process longer and more unpredictable. Interestingly, the municipalities and planners are crying out that they do not have enough control and want new land use reforms. However, there is currently a serious lack of permits issued for housing for families and these changes would actually hinder the production of reasonably priced housing.

Many communities have some of the strictest zoning in the region, with large minimum lot sizes, restrictions limiting multi-family housing, and unworkable cluster zoning ordinances. Opportunities for young families to rent a moderately price apartment or find a reasonably priced starter home is virtually impossible. The Massachusetts economy cannot fully expand without the support of its highly talented college graduates. Unfortunately, as the recovery continues nationally, local business leaders are finding it more difficult to attract the best talent when competing with other states. Economic development professionals across the country are already starting to attract young families out of our region and into areas that are more affordable, leaving us, yet again, with the risk of a declining skilled workforce.

The strangest trend to occur in housing production is that children have become society’s “toxic waste”! Many housing proposals that would attract families with school age kids are denied at the local level. More and more municipalities are fighting the permitting of three or four bedroom apartment units, or even requiring 55 and older residency age restrictions. If it appears that developments will bring children into the community, they are fought aggressively by the local boards. Even towns where the school populations are predicted to decline are reluctant to allow apartments that accommodate two or more children.

We are losing our 25 to 34 year olds at a faster clip than we are growing our total population. Our future is our young families and their children. Once and for all, we need to develop a serious policy that allows for the construction of family-friendly apartment housing and of smaller, denser, affordable, single family starter homes.

The future of our economy and our workforce depends on it.

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