Home is where the house is

Housing crunch in Boston spreads need around to other cities

THERE IS A housing crunch in and around Boston. The city’s population is growing at a near-record pace and jobs are coming to the area with the potential for thousands more, if Amazon ever makes up its mind about its new headquarters.

The cost of living in town is a deterrent to many young folks with the limited housing supply and it is creating a dilemma for surrounding communities who are seeing rents and house prices rise as competition takes hold.

There will be some relief as mayors from 15 cities including Boston are stepping up to pledge 185,000 new housing units by 2030, which seems to be a magical date these days for deadlines. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh had promised 69,000 new units by 2030, when the population of the city is projected to be about 760,000 people, up from the previous estimate of 707,000 just four years ago.

With that kind of population influx, it will take a bunch of villages to meet the expanded needs. There’s no set target for each of the cities to hit to make up for the remaining 116,000 units but all the mayors acknowledge there is a “housing emergency” on the horizon, as Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said.

“No community can do this alone,” Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, told the Boston Globe.

One thing the cities will have to do is ramp up their permitting and the production with help from Beacon Hill. Since 2010, the 15 cities have permitted just 32,500 housing units. That means they will have to push out three times that average annual number over the next 12 years to meet the goal.

Some of the cities are already experiencing housing problems because of the hot job and housing market. Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, in a recent conversation with CommonWealth, acknowledged his own’s son’s fears in being unable to buy a house in the city he grew up in. Quincy is already redeveloping its downtown with a focus on housing, much of it relying on the MBTA’s Red Line and access to Boston to fill the units.

But there will also be some resistance. Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said some residents have expressed concern that new housing will bring pressure on schools and traffic, not to mention upend the upscale community’s quality of life. Fuller said, like Quincy, her focus will be developing the housing around the T stops in the city.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

Even in Boston, where the pressure has been on the Walsh administration for some time to expand housing, there’s a pushback from both property owners looking to stall development and tenants’ advocates worried low-income residents will be priced out of the city. A recent conference in Boston by YIMBY (Yes In My BackYard) organizers brought the spotlight on the need for more housing, if not the best approach to it. But one thing all agree upon is there’s not enough room for everyone in and around Boston for the future.

“We are looking at that phenomenon and whether or not that is true,” said Sheila Dillon, the city’s housing director, told CommonWealth recently about the concern of pushing low-income tenants out of the city. “But we take the larger view that we have to increase supply throughout the city, throughout the region if we are going to get our rent and sales prices in check.”