Housing (Supply Crisis & Public Policy)

curcuas

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HenryAlan

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I think that is certainly true at the macro level, but for the small municipalities in Massachusetts, it's often not true, because the incremental costs do not scale with the population increase. If your school system is maxed out, you have to build a new school, not just buy 25 more student desks. However, there are solutions to such problems, such as regional governance.
 

JumboBuc

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Here's a detailed MHP report: the costs of new housing for towns are covered by 31% of the prop tax revenue they generate:

Here's some more from MAPC:

I think there was a more recent MHP or MAPC report, too.
That MHP working paper shows that, of 6 housing developments analyzed, 3 generated local costs greater than local property tax revenue and 3 generated local costs less than local property tax revenue. Then, for the communities where local costs exceed local tax revenue, 31% of STATE tax revenue would be required to cover the local revenue shortfall. It also concedes that state tax revenues are largely zero sum (someone moving to one town in MA is in all likelihood moving from another town in MA, so net MA taxes are unaffected) and attempts to adjust for this, but uses an arbitrary 75% assumption that doesn't really address the question. Also, the working paper considers a sample of just 224 housing units.

That is hardly a convincing finding to one worried about stress of development on local finances. The authors also make it clear that even outside of their findings, stress of developments on school districts is highly dependent on local school district capacity, and that high-need students put much more fiscal pressure on schools than "average" students.
Our analysis also suggests that development planning should consider the capacity of the local school district to absorb new students. This would limit the chance that a community would approve housing developments that exceed its service capacity, resulting in net negative local fiscal impacts. [...] Additionally, this analysis does not address the potential for the unexpected and substantial costs associated with providing services to school-age children with special educational and other needs, which is often a concern for smaller communities. In some cases, the risks associated with the potential for new high-need students may deter some communities from supporting new residential developments, even when the community has the capacity to serve more average new residents.
The MAPC document basically just highlights that the population is aging and total school enrollment is dropping.

I'm a YIMBY who absolutely supports expanding the housing stock, but the concerns of small communities around housing growth's impact on schools do make a lot of sense, and this research does little to dispel them. School systems are HIGHLY local in MA and this has a lot of positives but also a lot of negatives. Other parts of the country think we're nuts for having pretty much every single town run its own independent school district (and police department, and fire department, and etc...), but that's just how we do it. In that context, small population growths can really throw off the balance in our hyper-local services, even if they don't move the needle much on the net state level.
 

bigpicture7

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Though on the opposite coast, this is pretty big news:

Berkeley, CA's city council just voted to eliminate single-family zoning, "[allowing] for multifamily housing on lots that currently are zoned for only one home."

If Berkeley can do this, hmmm, I wonder if any cities/towns around Boston follow suit. (**sigh**)
 

393b40

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Though on the opposite coast, this is pretty big news:

Berkeley, CA's city council just voted to eliminate single-family zoning, "[allowing] for multifamily housing on lots that currently are zoned for only one home."

If Berkeley can do this, hmmm, I wonder if any cities/towns around Boston follow suit. (**sigh**)
They didn't actually do that at all. They adopted a resolution stating their intent to reform the zoning code by the end of next year, a non-binding and thoroughly unambitious bit of foot-dragging.

Better coverage: Berkeley may eliminate historically racist single family zoning (berkeleyside.com)
 

bigpicture7

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^ Fair enough; yet, somehow, sadly, it would still be downright monumental for local elected officials here to put their name on such a resolution. In case you didn't notice, many local officials here (hoping to get reelected) are flat-out scared to so much as imply that zoning changes to promote density are on the way (in certain locales in particular). I'll adopt your skepticism, but I'll still be watching what happens in Berkeley on this.
 
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bigpicture7

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^ Apparently I'm not the only one sensing at least a shred of optimism in the Berkeley city council's referendum vote:

EDIT: also, the comments section of this article is a joy (and by that I mean it's the wreck you'd expect it to be). People have a really messed up interpretation of property rights (e.g., "property rights means that my property will forever remained isolated from society and that I am guaranteed a perennially increasing value regardless of how much of a dumpster fire society is - AND, it also means my neighbor CAN'T do what they want with their property, since 'rights' means that I get what I want in the spaces OUTSIDE of my property, even if someone else paid for rights for those spaces"). Fascinating.
 
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donkeybutlers

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Boston joins with House America to combat homelessness
As part of Boston’s participation in House America, the city has committed to rehouse 1,100 local households and create 650 housing units for the local homeless population between now and December 2022. Additionally, many of the housing recipients will be paired with services to help them stay consistently housed.
Boston’s annual homeless census counted 1,591 homeless individuals on the night of Jan. 27, 2021
That would be homes for about 40% of the homeless population according to the last census. It would be a decent start, especially if they stick to that time frame, and continue building after 650. It's worth remembering this problem is not as big as it seems and can be solved.
 

dshoost88

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Census data has a lag, particularly from the American Community Survey. Most municipal population numbers are based on a ACS 5-year average of the previous years posted... for example, if Revere had the following population estimates for 5 years, their 2019 population would read 53,000 (their listed population was 53,073 for 2019).
2010 - 51,755
...
2015 - 52,000
2016 - 52,500
2017 - 53,000
2018 - 53,500
2019 - 54,000

Another contribution for the lag is that new housing units are not always immediately accounted for in a given year's population estimates. This is generally rectified by the decennial census when the US Census Bureau has address canvassers go to every census tract in the country to corroborate addresses.

Until the 2020 decennial census data is released next summer, we won't have a clear picture of how many people actually live in all municipalities.
I wanted to follow up to some of the concerns raised with my data dump nearly a year ago and Revere’s census numbers looking small. According to the 2020 decennial census, Revere’s population spiked ~20% the last decade and is definitely a regional standout for housing production. If I have downtime soon, I might revisit my housing post from last year to update with decennial census numbers for rate increases compared to regional average to illustrate who’s doing their fair share.
 

tysmith95

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So schools are a large portion of municipal budgets for most communities.

The one good part for municipalities about most new development is that the burden on schools for studio/1/2 bed apartments is that the number of children per unit is much lower than it is with single family and larger multi family units.

There really isn't much buildable land left inside of 495 for new single family homes. However there is increased demand for smaller apartment units as average household side is much lower than it was in the past. 1 bed apartments attract young childless couples and downsizing retirees. They don't attract families with children.
 

JumboBuc

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So schools are a large portion of municipal budgets for most communities.

The one good part for municipalities about most new development is that the burden on schools for studio/1/2 bed apartments is that the number of children per unit is much lower than it is with single family and larger multi family units.

There really isn't much buildable land left inside of 495 for new single family homes. However there is increased demand for smaller apartment units as average household side is much lower than it was in the past. 1 bed apartments attract young childless couples and downsizing retirees. They don't attract families with children.
When empty-nesters downsize out of their old single-family homes, younger families often move in. So one could definitely make the argument that building units aimed at empty-nesters / retirees increases school enrollment in single-family areas. And building “luxury” buildings in the city increases school enrollment in the leafier suburbs. The same could also be said for some extent for units targeted at young professionals and childless people, but they’re generally freeing up smaller units (unless they’re moving out of large-unit with roommate situations).

An interesting angle here is that school enrollment is hyper-local (within a town) but downsizings/moves tend to be more regional (across towns but within Greater Boston). So from a pure fiscal POV, a dense development of smaller “luxury” units in Boston could be worse for municipal finances in, say, Lexington than if that same dense development were in Lexington itself.
 

dshoost88

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An interesting angle here is that school enrollment is hyper-local (within a town) but downsizings/moves tend to be more regional (across towns but within Greater Boston). So from a pure fiscal POV, a dense development of smaller “luxury” units in Boston could be worse for municipal finances in, say, Lexington than if that same dense development were in Lexington itself.
That would be true if municipalities were failing to add other taxable real estate to their tax roles, such as commercial and industrial space, Alas, I believe employers in Lexington employ more workers than there are residential homes, and the number of jobs continues to grow there. In a region so thirsty for lab and manufacturing space, the likely outcome is that suburbs growing their commercial real estate footprints will continue to see stable/healthy municipal finances. It’s the BANANA municipalities that are most likely in trouble. (Build absolutely nothing anywhere, not anytime)
 

stefal

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Short article, but why aren't we seeing more investment from developers and lenders into housing? Sure lab space is easier, but this momentum is a sure-sign that you'll make your money back on residential..
 

jklo

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Short article, but why aren't we seeing more investment from developers and lenders into housing? Sure lab space is easier, but this momentum is a sure-sign that you'll make your money back on residential..
Lab space is viewed as safer too? Too much red tape perhaps?
 

bigpicture7

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...especially in Boston, it seems a key point here is that our long tradition of young prof's splitting larger apartments has gone along for the ride with increasing housing prices, whereas introducing more and more micro-units actually has potential to keep prices in check or lower prices. It seems the present system contains an elephant in the room that zoning and policymaking seems to pretend doesn't exist.

Another key point is that micro-units are unlikely to add significant pressure to school systems, while nonetheless increasing the tax base.
@curcuas , I was inspired to pick up on this discussion we were having over a year ago when I stumbled upon this:

^as far as I can tell, this is not a formal proposal / is just a concept exercise. But I am familiar with this parcel - it's a tiny narrow/awkward space owned by the city that has served as a temporary dog run / picnic area / among other underutilized functions, but in a prime location near the heart of Kendall.

MIT has been trying to buy this land to develop alongside their giant Volpe project (it's been raised at various city meetings, there's been various community pushback, etc, etc, and not sure the latest status).

Nonetheless, the idea of 400-sq-ft micro-units in the heart of Kendall is really interesting to me, for all of the reasons we discussed way back when, and I'd love to see something come of this.
 

Smuttynose

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Yesterday the Baker administration finalized the guidelines indicating how communities can comply with the new MBTA Communities housing law. The changes include a new category "Adjacent Small Town" that significantly reduces the required number of multi-family units likely based on political realities. Also towns that are near major transit facilities but not inclusive of them were re-classified so Arlington, for example, has a significantly lower threshold. Below is the required number of units the community has to be zoned for based on the new guidelines. I am hoping these will be revised over time. It seems like communities that have approved huge amounts of commercial/office development (ala Burlington) should be required to provide more housing. There should also be some control for existing density -- Lowell (6,520 units), Quincy (11,752 units) seems extremely ambitious.

Arlington: 2,046
Bedford: 750
Belmont: 1,632
Beverly: 2,683
Braintree: 3,769
Brockton: 5,596
Brookline: 6,990
Burlington: 1,043
Cambridge: 13,477
Chelsea: 3,639
Chelmsford: 1,477
Concord: 1,094
Foxborough: 768
Everett: 4,552
Gloucester: 2,270
Lawrence: 4,501
Lowell: 6,520
Lexington: 1,231
Lynn: 5,517
Manchester-by-the-Sea: 585
Medford: 6,443
Nahant: 84
Needham: 1,784
Newburyport: 1,292
Newton: 8,330
Quincy: 11,752
Reading: 1,493
Revere: 6,135
Salem: 3,052
Somerville: 9,067
Swampscott: 954
Waltham: 3,982
Watertown: 1,701
Wayland: 750
Winchester: 1,220
Woburn: 2,631
Worcester: 12,642
 

stick n move

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Figured it would be good to make a separate thread about the housing crisis, how we got here, and whats being done to fix it… or make it worse.


To start it off heres an article I came across from the Atlantic discussing the topic.

Housing Breaks People’s Brains

“Anyone who’s been in a dumb recurring fight knows that the entire problem could be cleared up if everyone could just agree on exactly what was said or done. But you can’t, so you end up stuck in a cycle of relitigation. Housing-policy discussions are like that. They descend into crushing bickering because even the basic facts are up for debate.”

“The most basic fact about the housing crisis is the supply shortage. Yet many people deny this reality. Before I get to the veritable library of studies, our personal experiences compel us to recognize that housing scarcity is all around us. The most dire signs of a shortage are when even rich people struggle to find homes. Viral clips of hundreds of yuppies lining up to tour a single Manhattan apartmentor stories of real-estate agents acting as bouncers at open houses to keep things orderly—these vivid examples demonstrate that demand has far outstripped supply.”

“Once you accept the existence of a housing shortage, the obvious policy response is to build a bunch of homes. Research looking at San Francisco, New York, Boston, and 52,000 residents across 12 U.S. metropolitan areas have all found that new housing brings down prices. This research makes intuitive sense: If new housing is built, most of the people who move in first vacate other units. Those units then become available to newcomers, and so on. Solving a supply problem is of course harder than making the number of homes equal the number of people—different people want different sorts of homes—but the fundamental point is that we need more homes near good jobs and schools, and that give people access to the communities and amenities that make life more enjoyable…”

https://web.archive.org/web/2022112...s-housing-supply-shortage-crisis-2022/672240/
 

Jouhou

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I'm so sick of NIMBYs, bad zoning, and the whole approval process. Housing shortage has been extremely bad here for the past decade, NIMBYs still show up to city meetings to kill off any residential proposals but when office space gets offered in the same exact locations no one whines. I don't understand why they don't hate office space, the buildings create the traffic they whine about and further exacerbate the imbalance between jobs and homes.
 

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