Resistance to housing a never-ending saga

Here’s a question — and an answer — from a deep-dive look at one of the most vexing challenges facing Massachusetts. “Why can’t an average family in Massachusetts afford an average home in the suburbs anymore? The answer, at least in part: The suburbs don’t want them.”

There are all sorts of reasons why forces in the state conspire to block those hoping to grab hold of one of the pillars of the American Dream — whether it’s fear of more students, and their associated costs, in their schools or flat-out opposition to more residential development of almost any kind. Just how stubborn is that resistance? The quote above comes from a CommonWealth story published 17 years ago.

Almost two decades later, virtually nothing has changed. 

As the Globe’s Tim Logan writes today, “a modest bill that would make it easier for cities and towns to build more homes — only if they want to — has been in legislative limbo for two years and counting, despite broad support and a months-long push for passage by Governor Charlie Baker.”

The legislation, called Housing Choice, is suffering the same pull-up-the-drawbridge fate as so many other efforts that preceded it. Those that already own homes aren’t generally keen on seeing new houses built around them, and established homeowners tend to be the people who dominate local elections and town meetings.  

The main change the bill would make is to allow zoning changes to be approved with a simple majority vote of a local municipal council or town meeting, rather than the two-thirds vote now required. The existing structure basically provides for a tyranny of the minority, with a one-third voting bloc all that’s needed to block any zoning change. 

The bill has won the support of developers, affordable housing groups, and even the state association representing cities and towns, which tends to be wary of anything that would weaken local control. But no matter. 

Indeed, the Globe reports that opposition appears to have grown as the bill has foundered and been the subject of more and more discussion and debate. The paper says Needham officials recently wrote to their state lawmakers, arguing that the two-thirds status quo for zoning changes “encourages ‘sound and community-supported’ planning, with ‘proven benefits.’”

The Globe widens the lens to look at what’s happening nationally and finds that other states with similar problems with housing affordability are taking steps to address it, whether it’s imposing rent control to protect tenants or loosening zoning rules to allow more housing production. 

State officials say the Housing Choice bill would help Massachusetts reach the goal of 135,000 new housing units built by 2025, but legislative leaders seem to be in no hurry to try to push the measure through. 

So while the Democratic-dominated Legislature regularly crows about all the progressive-minded policies it has authored, when it comes to one of the most basic building blocks of economic security for state residents looking to climb into the middle class or make more secure their place in it, Massachusetts looks more like a champion of inequality. That makes the observation offered 17 years ago by a local housing policy expert seems as apt today as it was then.

“The situation threatens a fundamental social contract,” Nicolas Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard, told CommonWealth in 2002. “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.”



The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee hears testimony on bills changing the penalties for sharing sexually explicit images. (State House News)


The Pittsfield City Council ends an impasse with Mayor Linda Tyer, agreeing to use more of the city’s free cash to reduce the property tax rate. (Berkshire Eagle)

Timothy Raesly and Brittany Dupont-Raesly are petitioning their local government in Danvers to change the zoning to allow them to keep their two goats Dean and Deluca. (Salem News

Weymouth town councilors say they want Attorney General Maura Healey’s office to advise them about their options for forcing the owner of a controversial digital billboard to take the structure down and halt plans to build a second. (Patriot Ledger) 


House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee release their 300-page report accusing President Trump of systematic abuse of power as part of the ongoing impeachment probe. (Washington Post


Some Elizabeth Warren supporters want her to switch from a relentless focus on policy plans to more personal tales that can draw people to her campaign. (Boston Globe

After failing to gain traction with black voters and women, Sen. Kamala Harris has ended her presidential campaign. (Washington Post

Carter Wilkie reviews pollster Stanley Greenberg’s new book, RIP GOP: How the New American is Dooming Republicans. (CommonWealth)

Beej Das, a Democratic candidate for Congress last year who wound up in a financial dispute with his former campaign manager, is in more monetary trouble as he tries to stop the foreclosure auction of the Stonehedge Hotel, which he owns. (Lowell Sun)


Google announces a big management change.

Renee Graham rips Mark Zuckerberg for his refusal to stop false — but highly profitable — political ads from Facebook. (Boston Globe

A US Coast Guard report unveiled at a meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council Tuesday revealed that 350 fishing trips resulted in possible violations of fisheries laws between 2011 and 2015. (Cape Cod Times)


The millions of dollars in new education aid from the bill signed last week by Gov. Charlie Baker will do little to change the state of crumbling school buildings and poor conditions faced by students in many of the state’s lower-income cities. (Boston Globe

Documentary maker Ken Burns kicks off a $60 million fundraising drive for his alma mater, Hampshire College. (MassLive)


The Boston Center for the Arts is delaying by a year plans to evict artists from space in its South End building and will make at least 25 percent of the space available to those longtime tenants. 

William Spitzer, a vice president at the New England Aquarium, says it’s time to change the climate change conversation. (CommonWealth)


The main downtown stretch of the MBTA’s Orange Line was shut down for an hour yesterday due to power problems and transit advocate Chris Dempsey says the T’s performance as winter arrives is “not inspiring confidence.” (Boston Herald) Meanwhile, the T quietly announced that its new Orange Line cars were pulled from service due to an “uncommon noise.” (Boston Herald)

To balance its operating budget, the MBTA is preparing to tap a pot of money set aside for capital projects. It’s another sign of rising cost pressures at the transit authority. (CommonWealth)

The Boston Globe Spotlight Team’s investigation of congestion was the idea of a frustrated commuter — Globe editor Brian McGrory. McGrory changed his commuting habits, but public officials didn’t seem to be on the same page at a Tuesday night event. (CommonWealth)

The Hartford Line, which runs between Springfield and New Haven, Connecticut, set record passenger levels over the Thanksgiving holiday. (MassLive)

With legislation targeting distracted driving set to become law next year, civil rights groups including the Brockton Area Branch NAACP have raised concerns about profiling in traffic enforcement and having enough information to track it. (Brockton Enterprise) 


Climate change threatens to wash away historical sites built close to the water. (WGBH)

A new Boston University study shows that airborne chemicals from New Bedford Harbor may pose a health hazard for nearby residents in Acushnet, Dartmouth, Fairhaven, and New Bedford. (Standard-Times) 


The Herald buries a short, un-bylined story reporting that the paper’s editor, Joe Sciacca, is leaving to take a job as enterprise editor at WHDH-TV. The Globe goes into more detail on the huge cuts at the paper, which have accelerated since it was acquired last year by hedge fund Alden Global Capital. Sciacca talks to “Radio Boston” about his move. (WBUR) 

Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund behind the slash-and-burn Media News Group (see Boston Herald item abovre), takes a 33 percent stake in Tribune Publishing — for now. (Chicago Tribune)

The Berkshire Eagle is getting a reporter from the Report for America organization.