QUINCY — The sprawling lawns, white picket fences and single-family homes that define many of the Boston area’s wealthy bedroom communities will need to make room for more of the multifamily housing popping up in cities like Quincy and Boston if the region is going to get a handle on what many advocates see as a housing crisis, according to a study released this week.
Greater Boston is now considered the fourth-most expensive city for rental housing in the nation, thanks in large part to a shortage of housing that has made affording a two-bedroom apartment virtually impossible for anyone making less than $87,000 a year. A study released this week by the Boston Foundation found that financial pressures of ballooning rents and skyrocketing home values coupled with a lack of housing diversity in many of the region’s cities and town have created segregated communities, exacerbated income inequality and increased homelessness.
The study singles out the state’s approach to zoning, which leaves most of the power in the hands of local governments. Known as “home rule,” this allows communities to dictate what kinds of housing can be built and where, and allows communities to effectively ban anything but the single-family houses that characterize the area’s wealthier suburbs.
It’s a practice that has boxed out lower-income families and individuals and allowed some cities and towns around Boston to use zoning laws to block the construction of the much-needed multifamily and affordable housing projects that many studies say are key to solving the region’s housing crisis.
“It raises concerns about the challenges that system poses. First and foremost among them is an apparent unwillingness on the part of many cities and towns to participate in developing the diversity of housing we need for our region’s growing population,” Paul S. Grogan, president and CEO of The Boston Foundation, wrote in his foreword to the report.
Grogan said most new housing production remains concentrated in a small number of cities and towns.
In Quincy, where more than 3,800 new homes and apartments — mostly in large residential apartment buildings — have been built in the last decade, Mayor Thomas Koch said it’s time other communities do their part, too, including the smaller bedroom communities to the south.
“Suburbia is going to have to wake up and do their share,” he said.
Beyond affordability and financial pressures, Grogan said the effect of the “unwillingness” of other communities to create more multifamily and affordable housing has real social consequences and perpetuates systemic injustices.
“People of color are still highly concentrated in a few places, often in poorer neighborhoods, even if residents themselves aren’t poor. Generations of institutionalized racism have entrenched segregation and — even though the law prevents outright discrimination — established patterns and home rule have only maintained the status quo,” Grogan said.
These same studies show that one of the biggest drivers to decreasing segregation and increasing diversity is building more high-density, multifamily housing.
The report calls for a multipronged approach to these challenges using legislation, public policy and education to strike down or unravel the home rule zoning practice and its “legacy of generations of discriminatory practices.”
Peter Forman of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce has a plan to do just that. The chamber’s South Shore 2030 initiative aims to add 44,000 new homes by 2030, most of which should be multifamily. Multifamily housing developments are few and far between in many of the South Shore’s smaller communities and it’s something Forman said needs to change if the region wants to stay relevant in the current economy.
It’s led the chamber to start actively working with cities and towns on the South Shore to plan for and lobby for larger, higher density housing developments.
The chamber has backed 15 multifamily housing proposals from Duxbury to Braintree that would bring a combined 6,821 new homes to the South Shore. Projects range from six to 4,000 homes. The chamber is also partnering with communities to have them rethink their zoning and open up land for projects that could bring hundreds more homes to the region.
The chamber’s perspective is a bit different than the typical housing debate, which centers on social justice and affordability, but both call for more multifamily housing.
“We are arguing we need to change the housing market to have more product that responds to what markets are looking for: multifamily housing,” Forman said.
By Erin Tiernan
The Patriot Ledger
Posted Jun 28, 2019 at 7:17 PM
Updated Jun 28, 2019 at 8:40 PM