Housing blues is long-running lament
Resisting new construction is a time-honored Mass. practice
IT’S THE LONGEST running tragicomedy on the Boston area political stage. We desperately need to build more housing to accommodate growth and temper a price run-up that puts home ownership out of reach for thousands. Everyone seems to agree on that. Yet no one can seem to break the logjam — or jams — that keep it from happening.
The current focus is a housing bill proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker that would allow local zoning changes to be approved based on a majority vote of the local governing body, not two-thirds support as is currently the case. It’s a small step toward beating back the NIMBY forces that often look to block new development, but one that might open the door to lots of projects that get shot down under the existing system.
Support for the change is so broad that the measure even looked like it had a chance of making it through the Legislature before the end of the year, even though the objection of a single member can block bills during the so-called “informal sessions” lawmakers are now holding. What’s the obstacle? Lawmakers who want the state to go farther in enabling more housing. They worry that passing the governor’s modest proposal could kill any appetite, particularly in the House, for more sweeping change in the coming session.
A recent Globe editorial suggested a compromise: Passing the governor’s bill now, with a promise from House leaders to “tackle more systemic reform” when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
This week, that problem drew the attention of the Wall Street Journal, with a story whose headline succinctly described the challenge: “Boston Doesn’t Have Enough Housing. Can It Get the Suburbs to Help?” (Full story behind paywall)
It describes a development battle in Ashland, where residents voted a local tax increase to buy a parcel of land and thwart plans for an apartment building there. “People were upset about the tree clearing, the fact that there were going to be four-story buildings close to the road, and that would really transform that vista,” the town manager tells the Journal.
As Roseanne Roseannadanna reminded us, “It’s always something.”
The effect of all this, of course, is to further constrict the already limited housing supply in the region — and drive up its cost.“The situation threatens a fundamental social contract. That contract says if you work, you can find a decent place to live. And if you’ve got a good job and work really hard, you can achieve the American dream — home ownership. That contract is void here.”
That depressing appraisal came from Nicolas Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. In this CommonWealth cover story in 2002.