Michelle Wu

When we call Boston a city of neighborhoods, we’re not talking about ZIP codes, but about community. From Uphams Corner to Hyde Square, Fort Hill to Orient Heights, our strength is in the sense of community shared by Bostonians who take pride in knowing their neighbors, celebrating our history and traditions and working to make each block safe, welcoming and resilient. But the foundation for any community is housing that families can afford, and throughout Boston, soaring rents and home prices have fueled a displacement crisis that threatens everything we cherish about our city. Recently released 2020 Census data should be a wake-up call to policymakers: families with school-aged children, and particularly Black families, are being pushed out of Boston.  

We need urgent action from City Hall to boost the supply of housing – housing that’s affordable to the residents who have built and sustained our neighborhoods, and to families and newcomers looking to put down roots here.  

To address the scale of the crisis, we must build regional coalitions to align a vision for sustainable growth and take every step at the city level. We need fundamental change to our city’s planning and development processes to unleash Boston’s full municipal power to solve our housing crisis – integrating our housing, transportation and climate planning and codifying those plans into zoning; streamlining our approvals process to make development faster and more transparent; and using our capital budget to close gaps. 

Act Today, Plan for Tomorrow 

The fragmented planning processes in City Hall fail to leverage Boston’s immense resources and creativity to secure a future that is rooted in shared prosperity, equity, and resilience. When decisions are made in silos, we end up building entire new neighborhoods that are vulnerable to sea level rise, unwelcoming to families, unaffordable for entrepreneurs of color and isolated from reliable transportation access. 

When multi-year community planning efforts aren’t codified into the zoning code, we needlessly stretch out the approvals process as developers wait for one-off permits and exceptions, wasting resources that could have been invested in advancing our transit, climate and housing goals. At the helm of the City Council committee that oversees development, I’ve had a firsthand window into how this broken process hurts our city – and the consistent leadership to call it out.  

We can’t continue to prop up an unfair system, then ask for a bigger mitigation payment at the end of the line. We need a real commitment to transparency and accountability that starts at the top and is built to last beyond the next round of mayoral appointments.   

A complete zoning overhaul will take time, however, and we’ll need a proactive partnership among all stakeholders to get it right. I’ve laid out plans to hit the ground running on Day One.  

We’ll prioritize higher density by-right near major transit corridors to accelerate new affordable construction, with tiered density bonuses for projects in transit-oriented communities that exceed minimum affordability standards.  

We’ll exempt 100 percent-affordable housing and public housing projects from minimum parking requirements, and we’ll move towards replacing rigid minimums with holistic transportation planning citywide.  

We’ll leverage the immense talent of Boston’s planners, architects, developers, energy efficiency experts, and advocates to drive innovation in housing creation, building on the success of Boston’s Housing Innovation Lab in allowing for accessory dwelling units, opening the door to well-designed, compact living spaces and building housing atop civic assets like libraries and community centers.  

Time to Think Bigger 

Cities hold enormous potential to drive transformative change. Now is the time to take advantage of our AAA bond rating and historically low interest rates to use our capital budget to close gaps. I’ve called for the city to issue green and social bonds to directly build deeply affordable, energy-efficient housing and expand our social housing sector. As mayor, I’ll coordinate with financial institutions and insurance companies to shift lending policies so that smaller and minority-owned development and construction firms have access to credit and bonding to move up in the industry. 

With half a billion dollars of federal funds poised to flow into our city, we need leadership to coordinate housing production, racial equity and workforce development, connected to public transit and climate adaptation and resilience. I’ve proposed creating an Urban Climate Corps to prepare Boston’s young people for the essential work of retrofitting existing buildings and decarbonizing our city.   

No mayor can snap her fingers and transform Boston’s housing stock overnight. Over the last several years, Boston has been churning out new housing, but we haven’t kept up the pace needed to keep families in place. As we take action to boost housing supply, I support using every possible tool to stabilize rent increases and stem displacement.  

Rent stabilization and supply-side policies are not in opposition – they are connected policies that, together with structural reforms to our planning and development process, will strengthen our communities and build a Boston we can all afford to live in.  

Michelle Wu is an at-large Boston city councilor and a candidate for mayor. 

Business as Usual Won’t Grow Boston’s Housing Supply. Here’s What I’ll Change

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 3 min