Housing blues is long-running lament

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.

Four years ago, Boston has set an ambitious agenda of new housing construction, a target city leaders raised further in September in the face of enormous population growth. One message city officials sent at that time was that Boston couldn’t address the regional housing needs on its own.

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.

“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 2002.

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Republican leader Bruce Tarr urge National Grid to end the lockout of 1,250 workers, but the two officials are vague about what they will do if that doesn’t happen. (State House News)

Three incoming state representatives of color — Nika Elugardo, Tram Nguyen, and Liz Mirandatalk about their goals as freshman lawmakers. Elugardo and Nguyen say they haven’t decided whether they will support the reelection of House Speaker Robert DeLeo. (WGBH)

Progressive group find few legislators on Beacon Hill worthy of top grades. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Mayor Marty Walsh pens a Globe op-ed defending Boston’s slow rollout of retail marijuana licenses and says the city will get things right when it comes to “much-needed equity” in the approval of outlets.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Joe Battenfeld batters US Rep. Steve Lynch for doing the craven Washington thing and flip-flopping on his call for change in House leadership as he now embraces Nancy Pelosi’s return as speaker. (Boston Herald)

Ezra Klein says outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan’s legacy, after representing himself as the face of fiscal fortitude, will be an explosion in the country’s deficit. (Vox)

Teetering British Prime Minister Theresa May postponed a vote in parliament on a plan for the UK exit from the European Union as Brexit proves easier said than done. (New York Times)

Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe argues that, contrary to currently accepted norms, nothing precludes the indictment of a sitting president. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

Joan Vennochi says Elizabeth Warren should ignore the naysayers, including the columnist’s own paper’s editorial board on which she sits, and run for president if she’s up for the challenge. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Dollar stores are proliferating in Stoughton. (The Enterprise)

EDUCATION

A hearing tonight will consider the perennially raised question of whether Boston should return to an elected school committee. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Health insurance does not guarantee access to psychiatric care, according to a new survey from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation. (Boston Globe)

Denver is pushing forward with a supervised injection site for people using illegal opioids even though the federal government says such facilities are illegal. (Governing)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board is upset that a $10 weekend commuter rail pass won’t be available this weekend and possibly for as long as a month because of a federal requirement that an analysis be done to determine whether the fare treated rich and poor alike. (CommonWealth)

As the T expands and attempts to improve its struggling bus service, officials are thinking about turning the operation and maintenance of a portion of the fleet over to private contractors. (CommonWealth)

The replacement of toll booths with all-electronic tolling at the entrance to the Sumner Tunnel in East Boston has coincided with a surge in tunnel traffic and nightmare backups in the neighborhood. (Boston Globe)

T notes: The transit agency is gearing up to hire a new commuter rail operator and the scope of the contract is likely to be very broad and complex….The members of the Fiscal and Management Control Board indicate they will ask the Legislature to pass a law retaining a similar oversight board after their terms expire in 2020. The only significant change they are suggesting is that the secretary of transportation should be a member of the board. (CommonWealth)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

US representatives face ridicule as they promote fossil fuels at a huge international conference on climate change. (Washington Post) But there was a warmer reception from other fossil fuel producers, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Australia. (New York Times)

Eversource said electricity it purchases on behalf of customers this winter will cost 11.73 cents per kilowatt hour, up from 10.5 cents last winter. (MassLive)

Vineyard Wind, which is trying to build a wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts, continues to struggle to win support from fishermen. The firm backed what it called a consensus 2 mile-wide transit corridor through the areas leased to wind power companies out to fishing grounds, but fishing interests say there is no consensus and a 4 mile-wide corridor is needed. (South Coast Today)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A federal judge ruled that a Massachusetts law banning secret recordings of police or government officials performing their duties in public is unconstitutional. (Associated Press)

A Chelsea woman — now charged with motor vehicle homicide — who is accused of running down and killing a 5-year-old girl in Revere and critically injuring her sister told police she had taken a sleep aid and muscle relaxant, drank a beer, and vaped cannabinoid oil before plowing into the children. (Boston Herald)

With marijuana now legal, police are on the lookout for drivers who are high but officers lack any definitive test for driving while stoned. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

Time selects reporters, the guardians of the truth, as the person of the year for 2018. (Time)

Social media for the first time outpace newspapers as a news source. (Pew Research Center)

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker introducesbottomless Pinocchio.” (Washington Post)