The Boston Foundation recently released the 2013 Greater Boston Housing Report Card (Housing Report Card), which provides a comprehensive analysis of the state of housing and its relationship with the economy in the Greater Boston region. The analysis included communities in five counties: Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Suffolk. The Housing Report Card should be required reading for all town officials, board/committee members, and community activists who deal with any aspect of community development in the Greater Boston region.
Ultimately, housing is related to all of the other challenges we face - from education to job training to community development as a whole. As we move forward in shaping approaches and policies in all of these areas, our thinking is wonderfully informed by the treasure trove of information and analysis in these pages. (Housing Report Card, p.4)
Some key points:
Household Income & Cost of Living
- Since 2005, the overall cost of living in the region increased twice as fast as median household income for homeowners and three times as fast as median household income for renters.
- Although Massachusetts' recovery from the Great Recession was stronger than the nation's, the Massachusetts' economy seems to have suddenly stalled. This is likely to result in continued stagnation or perhaps even decline in household incomes.
- Single-family home prices are growing as are condominium prices. In fact, a six-year trend of falling condominium sales turned a corner in 2012 when sales jumped 25% from 2011. Rent prices continue to increase as they have every year since 2003.
Housing affordability is as serious a problem as ever, not just because of rising home prices and rents, but because of stagnant or declining household income. Renters have been the hardest hit. (Housing Report Card, p.10)
Zoning Key to Meeting New Housing Demand
- The strength of the region's economy is directly linked with housing supply. The greatest demand for new housing is expected to be from aging Baby Boomers wanting to downsize and young Millennials who prefer multi-family housing. This fact led to the Governor's goal to produce 10,000 multi-family units statewide per year through 2020.
- There has already been a significant shift from construction of single-family homes to multi-family units to meet this demand, but it isn't yet enough. The main obstacle is local zoning.
The high cost of housing in Massachusetts is, of course, directly related to a lack of supply. The authors of this report delve into the reasons why our state ranks 47th out of 50 in the number of new housing permits per capita and discover that it is largely because of the way our cities and towns actively zone out the all-important multi-family developments that can help solve so many of our affordable housing challenges. (Housing Report Card, p.4)
I encourage you to read the full Housing Report. You may also find it interesting to watch principal author Barry Bluestone's presentation on October 10, 2013.