South Shore Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Peter Forman said the area has been ‘a bit behind’ other regions in finding ways to attract younger workers and families.The Chamber is releasing a “Housing 2017” report on Sept. 21.
QUINCY – The South Shore is struggling to attract young professionals and young families, and the obstacles include a shortage of the kinds of housing they’re looking for, and not enough affordable places to live.
That’s one of the main points of a “Housing 2017” report that’s being released Thursday morning by the South Shore Chamber of Commerce.
The report – part of the Chamber’s “South Shore 2030” study – will be shared with business leaders at a Chamber breakfast at Lombardo’s in Randolph.
“The South Shore has a more serious challenge than other parts of the Boston area,” Chamber president and CEO Peter Forman said in a Patriot Ledger interview. “If the region is going to be serious about competing economically, we’ve got to be serious about what it takes to do that, and that includes housing.”
And the Chamber says the challenge is even bigger. Beyond the demographic pressure, the report notes that the South Shore is competing for jobs and young residents with the rest of Greater Boston – while the Boston area is competing with Atlanta, Dallas, Portland, Ore. and other cities with much lower living costs.
“There’s a real scramble across the nation to find talent and a work force,” Forman said.
The trends the “Housing 2017” report outline are sobering. Over the next 13 years the South Shore’s current population of 1.2 million is expected to grow by just 19,000, while the number of residents 65 and older will double, making that age group more than a third of the population.
At a time when the South Shore’s housing vacancy rate is under one percent, an economic growth of a modest one percent would require 44,000 new single-family homes, condominiums and apartments – 10 times the number planned for the Union Point redevelopment of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station.
The report says those factors could produce “significant shortages” in key occupations. In an effort to reverse these trends, Forman and the Chamber are urging towns and developers to shift residential development away from traditional single-family subdivisions, toward “more compact, walkable neighborhoods,” with condos, townhouses and apartments near MBTA stations and shopping centers.
The report notes that the South Shore has a variety of transit sites for such housing – six MBTA stations in Braintree, Quincy and Milton, 12 commuter rail stations, and three ferry stations in Hingham, Hull and Quincy.
Forman said municipal zoning changes will be part of the strategy, too – for example, less emphasis on large-lot, single family houses, and more zoning that encourages smaller residences.
Forman said such initiatives will mark the first major shift in South Shore housing development since the small towns of Norfolk and Plymouth counties began suburbanizing in the 1960s and ’70s.
“It’s a dramatic departure from the way suburbia has built out,” he said. “We have to think about what we’re building, who we want to attract and keep here, and where we build it. And the South Shore may be a bit behind on doing that.”
Forman said the changes are already underway. Along with Union Point, the biggest such mixed-use ventures are in Quincy Center and Weymouth Landing, and the Hingham shipyard redevelopment.
“The Hingham shipyard was as industrial as you can get,” he said of the long-neglected, former World War II site off Route 3A. “They turned it into an entirely new development.”
The shipyard now includes The Launch retail area, Hewitt’s Cove condos and Avalon apartments, and an MBTA ferry station. A second Avalon apartment building is under construction just to the south off Route 3A.
Most South Shore towns have at least a couple of old industrial properties. and Forman said a recent Whitman redevelopment shows that such projects can be done almost anywhere – the old Commonwealth Shoe Company is now the Bostonian Shoe Lofts apartments, just off Route 27 in the town center.
Forman also points to “holes and vacancies” projects in Weymouth, along the commercial corridors on routes 18, 53 and 3A, the Sconset Landing condos off Route 53 in Hanover.
“We have a lot to offer,” he said. “But we can do a lot more.”
By Lane Lambert, The Patriot Ledger
Published September 21, 2017
Lane Lambert may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of Gary Higgins/The Patriot Ledger