Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2013

Urban housing and green corridor concept (taken from E+ Parker Terrace design proposal by Studio G Architects)

Urban housing and green corridor concept (taken from E+ Parker Terrace design proposal by Studio G Architects)

“Four factors are among those driving the demand for smaller, urban residences: declining incomes, increased college debt, the desire for community or village living, and a declining tolerance for commuting.” – Barry Bluestone

Housing is a hot topic in our city and across the nation, and staying abreast of developments, trends and emerging research helps inform and shape our designs. Studio G Architects recently participated in two events focusing on the housing market in Massachusetts. Here’s a recap of what we learned…

New data suggest that since 2005, the cost of living in Greater Boston has increased twice as fast as median homeowner household income and three times faster than the median income of renter households. Yikes! And with Boston’s population estimated at 630,000 and GROWING, it begs the question: where will these people live??

Barry Bluestone, Director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern, has some ideas. As part of his presentation with NEWiRE (New England Women in Real Estate) on September 13, 2013, Mr. Bluestone described key economic and demographic shifts spurring critical need for new home construction in Massachusetts. Bluestone’s research illuminated the impact of “over-housed” Baby Boomers and “under-housed” Echo-Boomers (also called Millennials), noting the changing needs and tastes of both populations.

Rather than large suburban single family dwellings, multifamily configurations in the urban core with strong linkages to public transportation will be most important to meet the changing needs of city residents.  He predicts future growth will also be “driven largely by a desire among both young and old to live without cars…The young avoiding the expense of a car, the aging segment of the population no longer as able or content to rely on a couple of cars parked in a suburban garage.”

These sentiments were echoed at a second event organized by the Boston Foundation on October 10, 2013, where Mr. Bluestone unveiled the completed Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2013. Focusing on the topic of What Follows the Housing Recovery? the report analyzes the relationship between the region’s economy, demography and housing with respect to public policy.

 “Noteworthy and welcome is that production is shifting dramatically away from single-family housing to multi-family…In 2013, we estimate, two-thirds of new production will be of his type with only one-third being single-family homes. This completely reverses the proportions from a decade earlier.” –The Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2013

Distilled down to the basics, the report identifies the pressing need for smaller housing units located in denser, transit-oriented neighborhoods – something that Studio G has been promoting, designing and supporting for over a decade.

So what types of zoning regulations are conducive to this type of housing production? The report cites the following:

–          Zoning regulations that assign large tracts of land for larger housing developments;

–          “Cluster development” zoning that provides specifically for dense housing surrounded by open space;

–          “Inclusionary zoning” that allows developers to build denser developments containing more units per parcel than previously allowed (assuming the developer allocates a certain percentage of units for affordable and moderate income households);

–          The adoption of Chapter 40R, the Commonwealth’s Smart Growth Overlay Zoning District law (denser, transit-oriented, as-of-right housing produced with monetary incentives to encourage development).

Design by Studio G Architects ©

Design by Studio G Architects ©

More than ever, we need to motivate communities to reform their zoning regulations, encouraging them to adopt provisions of other successful housing precedents. While obstacles including zoning and the unpredictability of a project’s approval process and schedule can hinder development, progress is possible and changes are visible. Boston Mayor Menino’s plans for 30,000 new housing units, and Governor Patrick’s commitment to encourage production of an additional 10,000 multifamily units are steps in the right direction. Eric Belsky, Managing Director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, believes that, “The 30,000 unit goal for Boston is the best idea for keeping up with the demand and job growth in the city.”

The Housing Report Card closes by applauding the collective efforts and “Heightened attention to housing as both a moral obligation of government and as an economic necessity to maintain the Commonwealth’s prosperity.”  

We agree, but there is still much work to do…

Full Boston Foundation footage (Housing Report Card event) available at:

Download the complete Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2013 here:

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