Don’t buy the hype: Lots of people want to live here
Outmigration is driven entirely by housing costs, something within our power to change
“NOBODY GOES THERE anymore. It’s too crowded.” — Yogi Berra.
Recent figures on the outmigration of Massachusetts residents are generating headlines about families “fleeing” a Commonwealth that is not remaining “competitive” with the rest of the country. It might seem difficult to untangle the various reasons why people are leaving Massachusetts, but there’s actually one simple reason.
More people are leaving the state than are coming in because we are not building enough reasonably priced, reasonably well-located housing so that individuals and families who want to live, work and send their kids to school here can afford to do so. That includes convenience store clerks, child care professionals, carpenters and software engineers. That’s it; that’s the whole story.
Are recent changes in population really due to reduced “demand” for the opportunity to live in Massachusetts or are they mostly due to a limited “supply” of the opportunity to do so? Let’s take a look.
Massachusetts remains an exceptionally attractive state for the people who are here and the many more who want to be here. We have a lot of great jobs and our unemployment rate is near historic lows. We have one of the highest rates of income per capita in the nation. We have great schools, great open spaces and a great quality of life. We are considered one of the healthiest states and we have among the highest life expectancies in the country. That’s why, if you take a step back and look at the big picture (say, the years from 2010 to 2022), we have actually had the highest rate of population growth in the Northeast (yes, even higher than the great state of New Hampshire).
A more granular look at individual communities provides further proof that it’s all about housing. Massachusetts cities and towns that have embraced new housing as strengthening and enhancing their community character have been adding population at impressive rates.
Cambridge, Revere, and Everett (categorized by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council as “Metro Core” communities) grew by 13 percent, 13 percent, and 18 percent respectively from 2010 to 2022. Plymouth and Franklin (called “Developing Suburbs” by MAPC) grew by 14 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Quincy, Lynn, and Worcester (called “Regional Urban Centers” by MAPC) grew by 10 percent, 12 percent and 13 percent, respectively.
These are different communities in different regions with few qualities in common other than a shared willingness to welcome new housing and new residents. Together, they grew about twice as fast as the rest of the Commonwealth.
So, yes, there is a very serious threat to the health and welfare of Massachusetts. But we have diagnosed the problem and the solution is within our control: allow housing development, including multifamily housing development, in many more places across the state; establish prompt and predictable permitting for such development; and provide public land, infrastructure and cash support to accelerate the process.It is tremendously hopeful that our largest challenge is one that we can fix. It will be shameful if we don’t do it.
Gregory Bialecki is a principal at Redgate, a Boston real estate development firm. He served as secretary of housing and economy development under Gov. Deval Patrick.