Solutions for Building More Housing Units in Boston

One of the biggest, if not the biggest stories that developers around Boston have been following is the housing crunch. Across the United States, the median price per square foot for housing is $153. But in Boston, prices are averaging an astronomical $747, or $304 per square foot across the Boston-Cambridge-Newton Metro area.

What’s driving prices so high? It’s a combination of factors. Industry within Boston is growing, which has new residents flocking to the city—but there aren’t enough housing units to go around, so as competition among buyers rises, housing costs escalate. The result? Lots of potential buyers are finding themselves priced out of the market, and in the meantime, legislators and developers both are looking at solutions to create more housing units.

Right now, people are talking about lots of ideas, and some are even in the works. The Metro Mayors Coalition is seeking to build 185,000 new units within the area by 2030. Only a decade away, which means area builder and developers will be busy meeting this demand. Let’s take a look at a few of the solutions that could be used to help round out Boston’s housing supply.

Zoning Changes

Lots of area residents and lawmakers are calling for zoning changes to help create more available space for housing within Boston. In fact, Governor Baker filed a bill called An Act Relative to Housing Choices back in December of 2017 and refiled a newer version of this bill in February 2019. The idea is to update a century-old law that calls for a 67% majority to change local zoning laws. This bill, if passed, would lower the voting requirement to a simple majority, making it easier to get zoning changes passed.

Subsidies

Massachusetts leaders have been investing in subsidies to help build out new affordable housing units across the Commonwealth. This has done a lot to attract both non-profit and for-profit developers, with firms coming from as far away as Oregon to develop within the area. Governor Baker has called for 135,000 new housing units by 2025, and while the subsidies are helping achieve this goal, lawmakers are looking at other options, too, because it’s feared the subsidies aren’t enough to make this target.

Infill as an Option

Infill has always been a way of life in the Boston area. With the city bounded by the ocean, expansion has always been in large part through developing and redeveloping dormant areas inside the city rather than expanding laterally. These days, infill is becoming an even bigger trend, with unused parcels being snapped up quickly for redevelopment. A look at the Boston Planning & Development Agency’s list of development projects reveals many infill projects across the city. Right now, Roxbury leads the way with more than 1,000 vacant parcels that could be redeveloped, followed by West Roxbury and South Dorchester, each with close to a thousand vacant parcels.

Garage Conversions

This is another big trend in Boston—and it’s not small two-car garage conversions, but major conversions of parking garages. These days, parking garages are often being redeveloped into mixed-use spaces that include offices, retail space, residential units and more. In fact, some say that parking garages are becoming a thing of the past in Boston. Places like the Clarendon Garage, the Dock Street Garage and others all have planned or proposed redevelopment projects in the works.

These are some of the biggest initiatives underway throughout the area, but there are many more things up for discussion, too. For instance, officials are looking at whether apartment sharing services like Airbnb are having an effect on the housing market, and there are proposals and legislation in the work to designate more affordable housing for the many residents being priced out of the market. What does all of this mean for the future? We’ll almost certainly see lawmakers, developers and area residents using a combination of all of these things and more to help create more housing city-wide.