- The 14 cities and towns in the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition of Greater Boston announced last week that they're working together to create a regional housing partnership.
- The group will use demographic data and projections, development trends, economic forecasts and an assessment of current affordable housing production levels to come up with a regional housing production goal and a timeline for implementing it.
- Coming on the heels of the collaboration announcement, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recognized the widespread affordable housing crisis and yesterday announced a $10 million plan to create 135,000 housing units throughout the state by 2025.
Housing costs in Massachusetts have increased at one of the fastest rates in the country. Governor Baker's plan will rely on providing incentives, grant funding and technical assistance to municipalities that expand their affordable housing offerings. The governor has proposed legislation that would make it easier for municipalities to change their zoning laws to promote the construction of starter homes, multi-family developments and accessory dwelling units. The law also would allow increased density through a special permit process and reduce parking requirements.
In the greater Boston area, part of the problem with adding density is that the city is already a densely-populated area and lacks viable land area on which to build new developments. Although it comprises one of the largest cities population-wise in the United States, Boston is quite small geographically. It only covers about 48 square miles, compared with most other major U.S. cities, which have triple-digit land sizes. For example, some of the top 20 largest cities population-wise in the United States rank as follows in terms of land mass: New York, 301 square miles; Houston, 637 square miles; Phoenix, 517 square miles; Austin, 312 square miles; Seattle, 83 square miles; and District of Columbia, 61 square miles.
The only other major city geographically smaller than Boston is severely land-locked San Francisco, at 46 square miles, which for years has vied for the most unaffordable city in America. Further cutting into its ability to expand housing is the fact that massive swaths of Boston's land belong to private institutions such as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Prior to the governor's affordable housing plan announcement, Boston and some of the cities making up its suburbs set out to turn around the dilemma by increasing housing stock. It's a different solution to a widespread problem in the United States, especially in the country's largest cities. Other leaders have tried a variety of tactics to mitigate the problem. Last month Seattle leaders announced an expansion of the city's affordable housing plan, which would, as in many other cities, require new developments to meet minimum affordable housing unit quotas. Baltimore is considering raising taxes to support its new affordable housing fund.
The 14-city collaboration aims to significantly increase supply by speeding up housing construction throughout the region. It also wants to create more units for both owners and renters, especially family-friendly two- or three-bedroom units. Like other city plans, the goal is to create much of the new housing in walkable areas and near transit.
This isn't the first time that communities in the Boston area have collaborated on a major project that traditionally would be carried out by one municipality. In October, 16 small cities and towns near Boston banded together to form a regional bike-share system. Pooling resources allows municipalities — especially smaller communities — take on large-scale projects without the burden of footing the entire bill or taking on a large project alone. In this case, leaders recognized that housing costs and economic effects are not bound by municipal borders and a collaborative approach could offer improvement throughout the region.