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With land-use decision-making inherently local in Massachusetts, those who show up to speak before local boards and committees have an outsized impact.

Housing attainability is a matter of economic competitiveness for our state. Our continued vibrancy and growth are predicated on our ability to make meaningful gains in housing supply and diversity across our region. While this is a daunting challenge, we as members of the real estate industry can individually assist in meaningful ways.  

Our state’s economic growth is tied closely to conditions in our cities and towns and communities cannot be sustainable long-term if they do not allow a mix of housing types at various price points to accommodate residents at all stages of life and in all lines of work.   

In many communities, a recent college graduate will not be able to find an apartment with market-affordable rent in their hometown. A new family will not be able to purchase a starter home because market conditions have long favored large, new-construction homes. An empty-nester will not have the ability to downsize to a townhome. A senior citizen in need of care may not be able to move in with their family if accessory dwelling units are not legal where they live. While these housing challenges are unique and personal, they have a collective impact that limits social cohesion and dampens the vibrancy of cities or towns.  

Our workforce also faces a major housing challenge. Every community requires housing that can accommodate the workers who fill important roles in our lives. These are the teachers, first responders, medical technicians, road repair crews and bank tellers, among many others. Without them, we would experience our cities and towns in a completely different way.  

Yet, we have created communities in which they cannot live because they cannot access or afford housing. They instead have elongated commutes that may not be sustainable and that contribute to traffic congestion and its related environmental harms. There is also a personal cost to workers of time lost, and each of these challenges makes it difficult to retain workers and to fill vacant positions.  

Massachusetts faces housing challenges for high-income individuals as well. We have strained housing supply at all price points, a limiting factor when executives are deciding whether to locate or grow their businesses here. When employees can work remotely, they are not geographically bound to our state and make choices to maximize their purchasing power and quality of life.   

When a new, well-compensated position is created and based here, it in turn contributes to demand for other new jobs across sectors, strengthening our economic ecosystem while magnifying the need for attainable housing at all price points.  

Participation Has Power 

Amidst these challenges, we must recognize that Massachusetts has long been a national leader in housing policy. We have landmark Chapter 40B, and now the MBTA Communities law requiring that 175 cities and towns create a district in which multifamily housing can be built by right. The Housing Choice law made it easier to change zoning in cities and towns to support new housing, and new tools like the 40Y Starter Homes law allow communities to act with intentionality and create districts where only smaller (and less costly) homes may be built.  

Catherine Rollins

On the ground, gains in housing supply are incremental in nature, requiring a mix of favorable market conditions, policy levers and community support to realize. Implementation of housing policy is inherently local in Massachusetts, and it is at the local level where individuals have significant impact.  

Research has shown that when housing is considered by local boards or committees, those who comment are overwhelmingly in opposition, inconsistent with public opinion overall. If interested individuals, particularly those with real estate industry expertise, do not participate in local government processes to broaden the conversation about new housing, the status quo will remain.  

Fortunately, the opposite is also true. Through increased civic engagement and communication in our communities, we can collectively enhance housing attainability across Massachusetts, strengthening our economy and promoting its resiliency in the years to come. 

Catherine Rollins is the director of ULI Boston/New England. 

Housing Attainability Drives Economic Resiliency

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 3 min