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Policy and Leadership

A note from MHP's Executive Director

A few years from now we might look back and see 2016 as a breakthrough year for housing in Massachusetts.

On the surface, not much has changed: jobs are still plentiful and housing costs are still going through the roof.  Housing production has increased substantially, but still not enough to meet demand and mostly concentrated in just a few hot markets like Boston, Cambridge and Somerville.   Our parochial patchwork of local government and exclusionary land use regulations makes Massachusetts one of the most difficult places in the country to build new housing.

The “breakthrough” is the recognition that we can’t keep this up forever.

In the Legislature this year we saw the most concerted effort to increase housing supply in more than a generation.  The Joint Committee on Housing approved a bill that would require every city and town to plan for multifamily housing and designate areas where it is allowed as-of-right.  It would also require every community to allow single-family homes clustered on modest lots in compact, walkable neighborhoods surrounded by open space.  Cities and towns would be compensated for any net increases in school costs that result from their approval of multifamily and cluster developments.  All three provisions of the bill reflect policy recommendations from MHP’s November 2014 Unlocking the Commonwealth report.   Building on that momentum, a multifamily zoning requirement and other strong measures to increase housing supply were included in a comprehensive zoning reform bill that was approved by the Senate in June.  The stage is now set for action in the next legislative session.

As we try to advance reform at the state level, MHP is also working hard on the ground: helping local elected officials make their zoning more responsive to current economic needs. There is no better example than the Town of Needham, where town meeting recently approved a new multifamily zoning district to support the creation of new jobs along Route 128 by TripAdvisor and other major employers.

And while we live in a state that makes major investments in affordable housing it’s also now widely recognized that subsidies alone cannot solve our housing problems.  As we work to expand the state’s private market housing supply we have to make those limited public dollars go further and be sure to maximize impact and serve those with the greatest needs. That's why MHP champions new approaches to building quality housing at a lower cost, such as the pioneering use of LEAN construction for the Walker Park development that will soon break ground in Roxbury. It's why we design financing products like ONE Mortgage, a state partnership with the private sector that allows local banks to provide responsible mortgage loans to thousands of first-time homebuyers in Massachusetts at better rates and terms than available anywhere else.

There’s a lot more to be done.  Thanks for your interest, support and involvement as MHP takes on these and other important challenges.   

Clark Ziegler