Massachusetts’ Smart Plan to Promote Housing That Works for Young People

Eschewing the faddish steps local governments sometimes take to retain and attract young professionals, Massachusetts has cut to the chase with a common-sense plan. Governor Deval Patrick is catalyzing walkable residential development as an official state policy in hopes of retaining young people by appealing to their needs and preferences.

Massachusetts is hoping to jumpstart walkable, transit-accessible residential development with a new set of incentives. Photo: ##

Yesterday, Patrick announced a program called Compact Neighborhoods, which will provide incentives for the development of multi-family housing near transit centers. The Boston Globe reported that state officials hope the program will spur the creation of 10,000 new housing units annually. To be eligible for the incentive, developers will need to plan on at least eight units per acre for multi-family homes and four units per acre for single-family homes.

The announcement came after researchers and housing experts publicly made the case for a shift in housing to reflect changing demographic realities.

Barry Bluestone, director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, told the Globe that over the next eight years housing demand will be dominated by young families with significant debt and older people looking to downsize.

The new program is a step forward but may be just the beginning of what Massachusetts needs to meet demand for walkable neighborhoods. Harvard economist Ed Glaeser, an urbanist, said that he doubted 10,000 homes a year would be enough to meet demand.

“I think it is going to take stronger medicine,’’ he told the Globe.

7 thoughts on Massachusetts’ Smart Plan to Promote Housing That Works for Young People

  1. 4 units per acre is not much at all. That’s basically the same as Staten Island ( = 12.75 people per acre).

  2. “Under Patrick’s plan, there will be financial incentives for communities that build more densely — at least eight units per acre for multifamily homes and at least four units per acre for single-family homes.”
    You know what that minimum is?  It’s the outer city and suburban neighborhoods developers were building post-automobile, before government stepped in with exclusionary zoning to keep out the poor and went to one acre-plus lots.  Often with an environmental justification (despite the resulting spread of development four times as wide).

  3. Nice to see Boston doing the right thing. That’s a city that’s choking inside a particularly tight noose of spread-out suburbs, close in.

  4. Four units per acre?  I live in an older suburb – not a downtown – and my three-bedroom single-family house sits on 0.14 acres. Four units per acre is not density, not in an urban area.

  5. I’d take what Glaeser says with a grain of salt – while I agree that denser development in more far-flung areas without urban amenities isn’t that appealing – he was recently pushing for this high-rise project in Cambridge that would have replaced existing relatively dense mixed use mid-range development with only slightly more dense luxury biomedical and residential development – but these same developers (I think it was actually MIT) could have easily found vacant property about a mile down mass ave on the other side of the river (NEXT TO A FRIGGIN SUBWAY STOP!!!)  in a neighborhood that desperately needs this sort of investment.  Boston still has vacant land – large swaths of south boston (which is slowly coming along), chunks of roxbury, there’s a bunch of vacant land owned by the MBTA around forest hills… the whole southbay shopping center area could be completely redeveloped – parts of east somerville (there’s a huge chunk of land about to open up next to sullivan station)… The T keeps putting up RFPs for several parcels around forest hills, and in the past 10 years only 1 developer has submitted a proposal for just one of the parcels.  There’s still plenty of space in the city to build dense.  What needs to happen are more incentives to build within the city of Boston – the demand is there – but developers (or their investors) are actively redlining certain neighborhoods, and in other places they have too much of a challenge with existing site conditions and meeting the (rightly) high standards of the BRA.  much easier to build low-quality on clean sites out in the burbs.

    Plus – the city of Boston still is not moving on getting rid of their minimum parking requirements in some neighborhoods – and the bicycle infrastructure is moving painfully slow.

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