Housing (Supply Crisis & Public Policy)

goody

Active Member
Joined
Nov 2, 2006
Messages
216
Reaction score
244
I say yes/it already is as Boston and the Bay Area are so much more expensive then other areas for the same reason, both cities are in roughly the same urban form and economic attributes. Although the order of magnitudes are and probably will always be different.

Specifically, they both cities have strong economies deeply connected to high growth industries in the global market, attracting a globally mobile (and highly educated) workforce that in return requires competitive compensation. Both cities are land constrained, containing dense urban cores and robust urban/suburban development circling them. The suburban growth however is reaching its outer functional limit for commuters with current transportation systems while its densification is socially undesirable and is being governed not by regional planning but by empowered communities (often NIMBYs) and their related shatter-belt of municipalities. Both are further land constrained by topography and bodies of water. Thus on the whole they are in the basic form cut from the same cloth.

Though order of magnitude does matter and there are some differences that are keeping Boston more affordable. The first is all of Boston's ex-urban communities that can accommodate growth with minimal impact, aided by what I would argue is a more comprehensive regional transit system. San Francisco's economy while in many ways similar to Boston is certainly a notch or two (or ten) above Boston's which is driving growth more quickly in the Bay Area. And frankly, the Bay Area's climate is more pleasant and I think there are more people willing to put down long term roots there, supporting that sustained demand.

Now the question what can these cities do to start addressing the issue and in my mind its two big buckets (1) create more as-of-right dense/mixed use housing opportunities via a regional approval process and transformation (and strategic) up-zoning* and (2) improve/ expand transportation to locations that can support TOD development.

*This is a total Pandora's box of displacement and design/creation of place etc, etc, and there would have to be controls to manage externalities of up-zoning.
 

KentXie

Senior Member
Joined
May 25, 2006
Messages
4,169
Reaction score
680

Yes, please please ban broker fees. Brokers have been outdated and essentially redundant since the advent of Zillow, Apartments.com, Trulia, and Zumpers. The fact that the value of having someone show me one apartment that I requested a viewing for (and found doing my OWN research) and 4 that I didn't ask for and is a waste of my time being a whole month's rate is an absolute scam.

I feel for people who's job is mainly to be a broker but selling houses still exists and if they really need a job, the rental market can move toward how things work in Los Angeles, with onsite Building Managers who are responsible for renting out their building's vacancy among other things such as handling work requests. They get free housing to boot in the building they manage.
 

dshoost88

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 14, 2008
Messages
2,026
Reaction score
1,747

Yes, please please ban broker fees. Brokers have been outdated and essentially redundant since the advent of Zillow, Apartments.com, Trulia, and Zumpers. The fact that the value of having someone show me one apartment that I requested a viewing for (and found doing my OWN research) and 4 that I didn't ask for and is a waste of my time being a whole month's rate is an absolute scam.

I feel for people who's job is mainly to be a broker but selling houses still exists and if they really need a job, the rental market can move toward how things work in Los Angeles, with onsite Building Managers who are responsible for renting out their building's vacancy among other things such as handling work requests. They get free housing to boot in the building they manage.
The challenge executing that in Greater Boston is that the majority of our housing stock is made up of triple deckers--not LA-scale multi-families. We are seeing more 100+ unit rental multifamilies under construction throughout the city, and essentially all of them already feature on-site building management that handles leasing as you say. But unless you find a landlord that has amalgamated dozens of 2-family and 3-family investment buildings on the same block as each other, it's not feasible to expect an on-site building manager at every investment multi-family across this city.

Boutique real estate firms like one I use to work for in the Back Bay are great because they vertically integrate everything the one-off investment property owner wants: dedicated property manager, dedicated leasing team (brokers) to rent out the unit when it turns over, financial/accounting staff that can handle all the units expenses, and--when the owner's ready to sell--dedicated brokerage sales staff that know the property well and can market it for an efficient sale.

I think given Boston's real estate inventory, a smarter approach to the brokerage fee argument would be to abolish them for multi-family buildings that have XX number of units and a dedicated leasing team on-site (or remotely). I'd want to find out from the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, however, if that's even legally permissible.
 

JumboBuc

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 26, 2013
Messages
2,634
Reaction score
1,485
The challenge executing that in Greater Boston is that the majority of our housing stock is made up of triple deckers--not LA-scale multi-families. We are seeing more 100+ unit rental multifamilies under construction throughout the city, and essentially all of them already feature on-site building management that handles leasing as you say. But unless you find a landlord that has amalgamated dozens of 2-family and 3-family investment buildings on the same block as each other, it's not feasible to expect an on-site building manager at every investment multi-family across this city.

Boutique real estate firms like one I use to work for in the Back Bay are great because they vertically integrate everything the one-off investment property owner wants: dedicated property manager, dedicated leasing team (brokers) to rent out the unit when it turns over, financial/accounting staff that can handle all the units expenses, and--when the owner's ready to sell--dedicated brokerage sales staff that know the property well and can market it for an efficient sale.

I think given Boston's real estate inventory, a smarter approach to the brokerage fee argument would be to abolish them for multi-family buildings that have XX number of units and a dedicated leasing team on-site (or remotely). I'd want to find out from the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, however, if that's even legally permissible.
The NY regulation doesn't "ban" broker fees, per se. It just makes it so that tenants won't be put in a situation where they have to pay a broker that they never chose to hire in the first place.

If a tenant wants to hire a broker to help them find an apartment, that's still fine. That broker can still charge the tenant for the broker’s services. And if a landlord wants to pay a broker/management company to help fill a unit (like the situation dshoot is describing) that's still fine too. That broker can still be paid by the landlord.

The situation the NY regulation seeks to prevent is where, essentially, a landlord lists an apartment with a broker but then the tenant has to pay the broker fee. There, the broker is providing the landlord with a service but the tenant is the one who has to pay for it.

Would such a change lead to higher rents, as the fee will be “priced in” to the rate the landlord charges? Yes, it probably would. But this change would still be good for tenants for a couple of reasons:

i) Demand for rental units is not perfectly inelastic. In a competitive market, an increase in the cost of production for any good will only be 100% passed on to consumers if demand is perfectly inelastic. In other words, renters would be expected to still pay some of the broker fee in the form of higher rents, but they won’t pay all of it; landlords will pay some. The policy change would shift the cost burden from [100% tenant, 0% landlord] to [x% tenant, y% landlord] in which x<100% and y>0%.

ii) Landlord demand for the services of brokers is also not perfectly inelastic. Thus, an increase in the cost to landlords of broker services will cause fewer landlords to hire brokers. This will lead to lower total broker fee costs, which again implies that rents will not increase as much as broker fees to tenants will decrease. It also implies that brokers as a whole will realize less revenue, and that some will lose their jobs. This is unfortunate for those individual brokers, but “jobs” alone is not a sufficient reason to keep endorsing a costly and inefficient practice, especially in an economy with near all-time low unemployment.

iii) Even if 100% of broker fees still got paid (which they won’t) and 100% of that cost still got passed on to tenants (which it won’t), at least that cost would now be amortized over the average duration of occupancy. Now a prospective tenant would be able to pay a broker fee out over, say, 30 average months of unit occupancy instead of upfront in one go. That too is a win for tenants, especially those that don’t have a whole stack of cash lying around.
 

Johnnyrocket891

Active Member
Joined
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
172
Reaction score
110
The fact that most houses that are livable near Boston are running between 600K-1Million. I have a serious problem with the Democrats policies if this is what they call the working class party.
Then factor in all the illegal immigrants living in section 8 housing in million dollar neighborhoods is priceless. What about our own homelessness going on in this country.

This system is truly screwed up.
 

kmp1284

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 13, 2006
Messages
2,073
Reaction score
340
The fact that most houses that are livable near Boston are running between 600K-1Million. I have a serious problem with the Democrats policies if this is what they call the working class party.
Then factor in all the illegal immigrants living in section 8 housing in million dollar neighborhoods is priceless. What about our own homelessness going on in this country.

This system is truly screwed up.
Rifleman?
 

dshoost88

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 14, 2008
Messages
2,026
Reaction score
1,747
MOD EDIT: From here

Seems like funny logic. More needs to be happening at higher levels government, sure, but that shouldn’t absolve smaller actors of trying to do the most that they can (especially since I don’t believe density must be seen as a burden, but that’s a separate argument).

If I were a planner with the city of Cambridge, I would recognize that the Boston MSA is in dire need of more housing and that this area represents an unmatched opportunity to make a dent in the problem. To analogize, should states not bother trying to legislate carbon emissions and leave it up to the federal government, since its obviously a national/global problem? I’m certainly glad that states step up to do more when our federal government fails to do so. Similarly, if I were a city planner I would feel a responsibility to do the most that I can to dampen the effects of a housing crisis that the region is failing to address.
I'm happy to explain my logic here... because it's data-driven.

According to available census data for the region (more data available here), the Boston Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) grew 7.0% between 2010 and 2019. While the MSA includes some 114 municipalities, the 2030 regional housing goal(s) were identified by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), which officially is 101 municipalities and does not extend to Worcester. So for argument's sake, lets say that the regional housing goal affects the 101 municipalities.

If 7.0% is the regional growth rate over the last 9 years, this means there are two camps of communities in our region: those that are housing more residents than the regional average, and those that are housing fewer residents than the regional average. Here's an imperfect list of the municipalities just inside Rt. 128 and how they stack up on this during that time period (numbers in bold are higher than regional average):
  • Cambridge - 13.1% growth
  • Chelsea - 12.8%
  • Watertown - 12.6%
  • Boston - 12.1%
  • Everett - 11.5%
  • Swampscott - 10%
  • Lexington - 7.4%
  • Somerville - 7.4%
  • Beverly - 6.8%
  • Belmont - 6.5%
  • Winthrop - 6.0%
  • Wakefield - 5.9%
  • Arlington - 5.1%
  • Salem - 4.6%
  • Lynn - 4.4%
  • Melrose - 3.8%
  • Newton - 3.8%
  • Milton - 3.6%
  • Waltham - 3.1%
  • Revere - 2.5%
  • Quincy - 2.4%
  • Medford - 2.1%
  • Malden - 1.7%
  • Brookline - 1%

According to the data, literally no other community in Metro Boston (core) has done as much to add housing and accommodate population growth as Cambridge has since 2010. Planners in Cambridge have been internationally recognized for their pro-growth, equitably-considered, progressive, economically-sound, and naturally sensitive planning work in a way that most American communities fall short.

If you want to pick a fight with a communities that aren't pulling their weight to accommodate new housing or grow in a regionally-significant way, I've got a list right there with some ideas of where to start. But at the end of the day, you also need to remember that it isn't planners that build new housing: it's developers. And if you really want to get into political finger-pointing, consider the implications of having a person more qualified for brain surgery than land use policy-making being in charge of the Department of Housing and Urban Development... Baker Administration has made some strides in implementing policies that will make a dent in housing growth/affordability, but at the end of the day communities are not getting much guidance from their state and federal policymakers to make land use decisions.

And one last thing on the affordability front: I invite any height fetishists among this forum to show me a single 600'+ residential skyscraper in the United States that is 100% affordable housing and single-handidly solved all of it's region's housing woes. Prove me wrong, but when you factor the cost of land, union labor, construction materials, code enforcement regs, insurance premiums, and public utility demands on concentrating that many people on a single parcel of land, I think it's an oxymoronic pipe dream to call that affordable. Also... find me a single 600'+ research/laboratory skyscraper in the United States that isn't Stark Tower or OzCorp in the Marvel Cinematic Universe... they're not real.

Cambridge Crossing is a good development among many new developments--leave it at that.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

393b40

Senior Member
Joined
Sep 19, 2012
Messages
2,182
Reaction score
1,270
Quincy, Malden, and Medford... those three cities are really important places that just don't pull their weight. Quincy... I feel is the worst offender with its wealth of Red Line stations. The state should really force them to up zone everything near those stations and allow development by rights.
 

Massachoicetts

Active Member
Joined
Jun 4, 2019
Messages
539
Reaction score
653
Quincy, Malden, and Medford... those three cities are really important places that just don't pull their weight. Quincy... I feel is the worst offender with its wealth of Red Line stations. The state should really force them to up zone everything near those stations and allow development by rights.
In the last 3-5 years, Quincy really has been pulling it's weight.
 

George_Apley

Not a Brahmin
Staff member
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
5,078
Reaction score
1,643
I'm surprised that Medford and Revere are so low on the list, given the large housing projects that they've been working on the last few years. Maybe a lot of them just aren't online yet?

I'd say that Brookline has no excuse, but they don't really have a lot of available land for developers to play with... unless we start to encroach on South Brookline's mansion zone lol.
 

Equilibria

Senior Member
Joined
May 6, 2007
Messages
6,157
Reaction score
5,641
If you want to pick a fight with the communities that aren't pulling their weight to accommodate new housing or grow in a regionally-significant way, I've got a list right there with some ideas of where to start. But at the end of the day, you also need to remember that it isn't planners that build new housing: it's developers.
Beautiful post. It's also about where there's available land - Cambridge largely achieved this growth at Alewife, in some low, ugly buildings. Even if Brookline wanted to, they don't have a large light industrial area to redevelop.
 

TallIsGood

Active Member
Joined
May 30, 2006
Messages
462
Reaction score
67
The fact that the entire region limits development based on traffic, context etc and not need to house actual people is the problem. This is why, notwithstanding market demands, most developments are downsized.
 

George_Apley

Not a Brahmin
Staff member
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
5,078
Reaction score
1,643
The fact that the entire region limits development based on traffic, context etc and not need to house actual people is the problem. This is why, notwithstanding market demands, most developments are downsized.
Zoning. For better or worse most of the available land for housing is already housing. It's just not enough housing for the region. I'm not advocating the mass redevelopment of residential neighborhoods, but restrictive zoning that forces developers to renovate old structures rather than put up new buildings that are more capable of meeting demand is a major factor.
 

Arlington

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 10, 2011
Messages
5,468
Reaction score
2,320
I'm surprised that Medford [is] so low on the list, given the large housing projects that they've been working on the last few years. Maybe a lot of them just aren't online yet?
Aside from growth around Wellington/Meadow Glen, Medford is the slacker that the numbers show it to be.

As a city of 60,000 maybe Medford has added a nominally-decent number of units, but on a large base it is not pulling its weight % wise.

Some of the shortfall may be de-densification in the 2-decker and 3-decker zones (a generational changeover from 5 per household to 3 per?) but in general, the City has killed projects in the short term without thinking that 40b will come to bite it in the long term.

For example, the 33-unit 7 Canal St Project, right at West Medford CR stop at 3 bus routes (94, 95, 326) and walkable to the 80, was apparently killed by NIMBY shouting

And locals are freaking / deer in headlights as Ch 40B kicks in as projects are proposed in the single-story-retail strip along Mystic Ave in Medford (along the 95 bus) because Medford has been slow. I think COVID has postponed that day of reckoning, but it is very real and very near. The new mayor was supported by a vague but widespread "I don't want towers" but hasn't been able to cobble together the "let's take control of this process and build housing where we want it" and so 40B"threatens" to build housing as the State intended.
 

George_Apley

Not a Brahmin
Staff member
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
5,078
Reaction score
1,643
Thanks for the Medford update! It's helpful to get the inside perspective given how hyperlocal we do things around here.
 

Equilibria

Senior Member
Joined
May 6, 2007
Messages
6,157
Reaction score
5,641
Aside from growth around Wellington/Meadow Glen, Medford is the slacker that the numbers show it to be.
Yep. Medford has all the land Cambridge does and has committed to doing nothing with it.

The new mayor was supported by a vague but widespread "I don't want towers" but hasn't been able to cobble together the "let's take control of this process and build housing where we want it" and so 40B"threatens" to build housing as the State intended.
The irony of that is that the towers along Mystic Valley Parkway and up toward 93 are what happens if you don't accept housing in other places (you should really do both, but whatever). You can create far more housing by simply allowing 2 units on each 1 unit lot (maybe 1/100 get built) than by building towers, and I doubt neighbors would even notice a difference. Sell multi-family zoning as a way to keep the towers from coming. Then again, the Medford zoning map is literally a hand-drawn sketch from 1965 that has been updated a couple of times in sharpie, so...
 
Last edited:

Arlington

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 10, 2011
Messages
5,468
Reaction score
2,320
Accessory dwellings should be everywhere a thing (two kitchens, one deed, where one kitchen is in the owner occupied unit). Even if it is for "the help" or AirBnB it all serves to make more affordable units available.

Maybe we need a 40B.1 statewide mandate that if you're owner occupied, you're free to add a second kitchen and bath.

In Medford, many open houses I go to you can see that the owner made an "illegal" apartment (often in the basement of a big single family). The market and the homeowners clearly want such things to exist, and the neighbors have long acquiesced---but they get "undone" to pass the fire inspection at time of sale. You also see double-deckers that have an extra kitchen in the basement. This should be made (1) legal (2) safer (3) taxed.

I don't care if the unit is for "the nanny" or "the student" or Air BnB. They clearly could be quickly and universally called into existence. The only limit will be street parking (which is assumed to be free everywhere that isn't around Tufts)
 

Top