Add homes at train stops, reduce traffic

Creating 253,000 new units could ease housing, congestion woes

HIGH HOME PRICES and soaring rents. Countless hours spent sitting in traffic. This is all par for the course for Massachusetts residents, but it doesn’t have to be. Allowing modest increases in how many homes we create near train and commuter rail stops could have a big impact.

Currently, we’re not creating the number of homes we need and we haven’t for decades. This shortage limits choices and increases prices for people across the state. Too often, we see it pushes families, seniors, and young professionals farther away from their jobs, schools, communities, and networks to afford a roof over their heads. Without enough affordable homes near the places we go every day, outward sprawl continues to exacerbate traffic as people travel longer distances to get where they need to go.

This ultimately hurts our quality of life by adding time spent on the road instead of at home, increasing how much we spend to get to work and school or face spending a higher portion of our incomes on housing to be closer. As the Boston Globe’s recent Spotlight series recently noted, 300,000 more cars have been added to the commute in the Boston metro area in the last five years. Not only does this mean 300,000 more people sacrificing their time and money to a burdensome commute every day, but 300,000 more cars contributing to Greater Boston’s carbon footprint, too.

Fortunately, we can do something about this: we can create more homes that are affordable across incomes in walkable neighborhoods that minimize traffic and congestion.

According to Massachusetts Housing Partnership’s new TODEX data, we could create 253,000 new homes along train stops. We have a transit system that reaches far beyond Boston, providing ample opportunity for us to create more affordable homes in areas that keep people connected to resources and to their communities via public transportation. These 253,000 new homes would stabilize our ever-increasing home prices, reduce traffic, support the growth of our economy, and provide safe, healthy, and affordable choices to those who need them.

Of course, this requires a collaborative effort. By transforming the commuter rail into a modern regional rail network, upgrading our subway system, revitalizing both MBTA and Regional Transit Authority buses, and allowing the homes we need along our railways, we can improve quality of life, strengthen our economy, and address climate change. Our public transportation must be both equitable and reliable in order for people to choose commuting by train or bus and we can do this with dedicated, sustainable investment in the MBTA’s infrastructure.

Every city and town served by transit and commuter rail can be a part of this solution. To do this, we need to be positive voices for affordable housing in our communities. In places where people are speaking in support of affordable homes near trains and town centers, progress is being made. By saying yes to more homes near public transportation and more walkable neighborhoods, we can stabilize home prices, increase affordability, and reduce traffic and our contributions to climate change.

Meet the Author

Rachel Heller

CEO, Citizens' Housing and Planning Association
Meet the Author

Jarred Johnson

CEO and development director, TransitMatters
Just think, if these 253,000 homes had already been built by now, would we still have 300,000 new cars on the road?

Rachel Heller is the chief executive officer of Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association. Jarred Johnson is the chief operating officer and development director of TransitMatters.