Idea for fixing the housing shortage

fattony

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Yeah, I was specifically talking about renting. But of course if you can get higher rents (because the renter group has better purchasing power due to multiple incomes), that's only going to encourage hedge funds and the like to buy up housing to rent out.
Do you know if that is actually happening? Like a study or report that shows a reduction in owner occupancy or increase in condo-to-apartment conversions? Like I said above, anecdotally I see the opposite happening.
 

tangent

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Interesting discussion. A few thoughts:

I really wish people would ditch the "it'd be great if we could get business to move to Buffalo/Toledo/Baltimore/etc". That's just not reality and you have a better chance of seeing God than that happening. In reality jobs and wealth will continue to consolidate in the same dozen or so mostly coastal cities.
Reality is that some cities have done some things well and will continue to be desirable places to live, work and play... and people that would like to live there won't be able to afford to. Like Harvard will continue to be a top school because of the foundation they have laid... but not everyone goes to Harvard and while the Harvard administration certainly could (and maybe should) grow Harvard to become bigger most people are still going to go elsewhere.

Boston and the Boston area in general are in a similar position of desirability that will likely always exceed supply as long as we don't screw things up.

I think how much we grow depends what kind of city you want Boston to be. Market will figure out supply, demand and pricing. A "shortage" shouldn't be measured against short term demand. Because market demand will figure out a price for the supply or go elsewhere. You could say there is a "shortage" of spots at Harvard because there is a bigger population and relative demand has gone up, but it is up to Harvard to decide what kind of place it is going to be and whether to increase supply of spots at Harvard or not.

If we want to build more housing then fine, I agree up to about 20% more but that is my line in the sand. Growth in housing (and jobs) should be restrained beyond that because we don't have the infrastructure to handle more and it will increase the relative cost of living above and beyond housing costs to make those kinds of big ticket investments in infrastructure to be able to sustain a larger population... And it will increase the likelihood that we completely fuck up the livability of the City which makes it nice to live here if we grow too much too fast.

Having said that I'd say there's two solutions. One is to have a robust transit connection to nearby satellite cities (in Boston's case Quincy, Waltham, Lynn, and out to Worcester) where people can experience urban living in a cheaper place that should be a quick commute in and out of downtown. In a city, as opposed to snobby NIMBY infested towns you can build more multiple dwelling housing. Anybody waiting for Concord to help solve the housing shortage is in for a long wait.
Completely agree. Higher frequency commuter rail out to Rt 128 would be a big improvement. I would add Salem and Beverly to that discussion because it has a very cool urban downtown with transit. And I would also add Woburn which doesn't have a transit connected downtown, but it does have a transit connected job creation area with the potential for greater urbanization in that area. And I agree don't try to build up the areas not connected to transit outside of Rt 128.
 

JumboBuc

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You could say there is a "shortage" of spots at Harvard because there is a bigger population and relative demand has gone up, but it is up to Harvard to decide what kind of place it is going to be and whether to increase supply of spots at Harvard or not.
Harvard is a private institution that has a fundamental interest in maintaining exclusivity. That's pretty much the mandate of Harvard's admissions department, which is tasked with picking and choosing whom they let in. Metro regions are not this (or at least they should not be this). Public policy set by governments should be designed to contribute to the greater good and look out for everybody, not just a chosen, selected few. It's perfectly within the rights of a private institution to pick and choose whom the institution wants to bestow its privileges upon, but that shouldn't be the mission of public policy.

Market will figure out supply, demand and pricing.
Yes, the market figures out pricing, but supply is restricted by public policy.

If we want to build more housing then fine, I agree up to about 20% more but that is my line in the sand. Growth in housing (and jobs) should be restrained beyond that because we don't have the infrastructure to handle more and it will increase the relative cost of living above and beyond housing costs to make those kinds of big ticket investments in infrastructure to be able to sustain a larger population... And it will increase the likelihood that we completely fuck up the livability of the City which makes it nice to live here if we grow too much too fast.
So allowing growth to bring down prices will lead to an increase in the cost of living? And Boston is in a "position of desirability that will likely always exceed supply," but allowing supply to grow will "completely fuck up the livability of the City?" Has this ever happened anywhere? Has a desirable City ever grown to the point of being undesirable? Cities are what they are now because they have grown (or shrunk) in the past. They are never frozen in amber. If we stopped allowing growth once we perceived things to be good at the time, we'd never get what we consider to be good today.

Also, 20% growth in housing stock is HUGE. I'm sure the YIMBYs on here would be perfectly happy with that kind of growth.

EDIT: Changed last line from "NIMBY" to "YIMBY" (my original intention)
 
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jklo

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Do you know if that is actually happening? Like a study or report that shows a reduction in owner occupancy or increase in condo-to-apartment conversions? Like I said above, anecdotally I see the opposite happening.
I haven't seen any actual numbers. But I do think especially the new housing stock is mostly going to groups who would eventually rent it out or put it on AirBNB. It seems pretty obvious, unless you have serious equity you won't have anywhere near enough to afford to buy.
 

TallIsGood

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How did Boston support a population of 800k people in the 1950s but would struggle to support 20% more than the 685k we have now?
 

bakgwailo

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How did Boston support a population of 800k people in the 1950s but would struggle to support 20% more than the 685k we have now?
Population was a lot more concentrated, and house hold sizes were much different. I believe we actually have more housing units that we did at peak population, although the destruction of the West End/Scollay Square, fires in Fenway/Roxbury, razings for the Southwest Corridor, etc, probably didn't help.
 

TallIsGood

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I agree with that but if you increased density in those areas why would infrastructure not support that increased population?
 

fattony

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No big-ticket infrastructure project is going to be the key to unlocking the next burst of density in Boston. We have radial trunk lines that are getting major upgrades. We need plain old buses to serve as our circumferential/crosstown network connections. If we make a commitment to simply shift existing road infrastructure from cars to buses, we will give major relief to the radial lines and unlock whole new neighborhoods that can absorb greater density.

I would ask how many cars were on the road in the 800k days compared to now? If we can clear out the cars, it will make room for many more people. It’s going to take political leadership across multiple municipalities to make it happen, which really is the only risk. The funds required aren’t very high.
 

HenryAlan

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I would ask how many cars were on the road in the 800k days compared to now? If we can clear out the cars, it will make room for many more people. It’s going to take political leadership across multiple municipalities to make it happen, which really is the only risk. The funds required aren’t very high.
This, right here, is exactly it. Our transportation infrastructure problem is one created by geometry. Too many oversized SOVs trying to exist in a space inadequate for such a mode. In the 50s, neighborhoods now served primarily by buses had street cars and minimal interference from cars. As car use increased, buses replaced street cars as a mode due to greater flexibility in traffic. But now we are at a point where that no longer works. Only by redistributing existing infrastructure toward transit can we expand the number of people traveling in and around Boston. The current move toward priority bus lanes points the way to a big part of the solution.
 

JumboBuc

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How did Boston support a population of 800k people in the 1950s but would struggle to support 20% more than the 685k we have now?
Honestly: blame birth control.

The 1950s population had WAY more children (and stay-at-home moms) than today's population does. Even though our total population is lower than it once was, I believe our adult working population is at an all-time-high. Back then the typical Boston triple decker might hold 15 (or more) people, of which only 3 or so worked outside of the home. Now that same building might hold 9 people, of which 6 or so work outside of the home. (Obviously these are made up numbers, but you get the point). Kids and stay-at-home parents don't take up very much transportation infrastructure; commuter do. Compare Southie today to Southie of old days; the total population is much lower today, but all the old public schools are empty and the streets are clogged with condo-living professionals (most of which have no or few kids) trying to get to work. Today's norm of double-income-few-child households results in lower total populations per unit but much higher requirements for transportation.

Also, while Boston's total residential population has fallen, Greater Boston's overall population (and especially commuting population) has continued to rise. So there may be fewer people living in Boston today then there were in the 1950s, there are more people physically in Boston today then there were then. By some measures, Boston's daytime population on a typical workday currently exceeds 1 million.

So in short, fewer children + more workers = lower total Boston population but more people on the streets.

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This is a reason why I see the frequently cited solution of increasing housing in ex-urban areas with improved commuter rail as lacking. Arguably, people living in one's neighborhood negatively affect quality of life less than people commuting into one's neighborhood do. I live in the Fenway because my partner works crazy hours in Longwood. By living close to the hospital she can just walk to work every day. Rush hour traffic in my neighborhood is a mess not because of the people like her who live in the neighborhood and walk to work, it's a mess because of all the commuters who don't live nearby. Building more housing nearby and allowing more people to walk to work wouldn't negatively affect my quality of life nearly as much as pushing more people to commute in from afar would.
 

bakgwailo

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Yup, exactly all of this - I know my parents had 6 and 8 total respectively in their two and three decker apartments growing up which was normal. Plus they had street cars, and households were lucky to have 1 car vs the 2-3 car norm today. Plus, the population was not only connected by street cars, but, much closer and in the city, vs after flight to the suburbs which then spurred the need for more cars as a 300k of the population moved out and then had to commute/drive in.
 

Jouhou

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This was actually exactly why I proposed this in the first place. The "cooling market" generally equates to projects not getting the financing they need. Meanwhile renters in the area are seeing rising rents that just... Aren't affordable.

https://www.zumper.com/blog/rental-price-data

We need to somehow make sure that no matter what the economic conditions are, housing continues to be built.
 

TallIsGood

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Another idea - stop downsizing every proposal. More residential density is good for neighborhoods.
 

DominusNovus

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This was actually exactly why I proposed this in the first place. The "cooling market" generally equates to projects not getting the financing they need. Meanwhile renters in the area are seeing rising rents that just... Aren't affordable.

https://www.zumper.com/blog/rental-price-data

We need to somehow make sure that no matter what the economic conditions are, housing continues to be built.
If the market cooling is real, and we still need more housing built, then we need to make it easier and cheaper for developers to build more. That means simplying or eliminating regulations and restrictions.
 

jklo

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If the market cooling is real, and we still need more housing built, then we need to make it easier and cheaper for developers to build more. That means simplying or eliminating regulations and restrictions.
Prices should chill, due to the increase in mortgage and borrowing rates. Difference between 4% and 5% is $360/month on a 600k property. Might be enough to make the numbers not work anymore for an investor.

And the thing is, they are already for the most part building with as cheap materials as possible.
 

DominusNovus

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Prices should chill, due to the increase in mortgage and borrowing rates. Difference between 4% and 5% is $360/month on a 600k property. Might be enough to make the numbers not work anymore for an investor.

And the thing is, they are already for the most part building with as cheap materials as possible.
I’m not talking about the materials, I’m talking about the regulations and oversight. There’s no way there’s no $s to be shaved off there.
 

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