While we like to think there is no better place in this country than Massachusetts, a recently released report from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation says that if our state wants to remain competitive, we must make some significant changes. According to MTF, Massachusetts ranks highest in the nation in childcare costs, second-highest in housing costs and fourth-highest in congestion.
The high cost of housing is causing many residents, and many would-be residents, to look elsewhere. That means Massachusetts is losing many of our college graduates and white-collar workers who can perform their jobs remotely to lower-cost states. The report notes that regions like Greater Boston are experiencing the largest outmigration, especially because of the rise of remote work.
It is not a surprise to anyone that has looked to purchase or a rent a home, particularly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, that housing costs here far outpace other states. Data from the Massachusetts Association of Realtors has consistently shown increasing median home prices across the commonwealth for years. The MTF report connects the dots to demonstrate the critical role housing plays in Massachusetts’ economic prosperity and overall competitiveness.
The good news is that our high housing costs can be addressed but it will take leadership from our state and local policymakers to put forth policies allowing more housing to be built and support from all of us to welcome that new housing into our communities. Not only is this essential to keeping Massachusetts economically competitive, but it will also help us create more inclusive communities that are welcoming to all.
Towns Have Big Opportunity Ahead
Our housing costs are driven by a lack of housing production, which has severely restrained the supply of housing available for purchase or rent. Without enough supply to meet the demand, prices continue to escalate.
One of the most important ways we can address our housing supply concerns is to allow for more multifamily housing to be built. The state legislature and the Baker administration have taken a great step in this direction by enacting the MBTA Communities zoning reform law. This law requires 175 communities served by the MBTA to create special districts near transit where it is significantly easier to build multifamily housing.
This is an incredible opportunity for those towns and cities and a wake-up call to all communities, even those not covered by the law, to examine how they can incorporate more multifamily housing in their neighborhoods. Multifamily housing helps create vibrant communities, allowing younger and more diverse residents in and helping seniors downsize in the communities that they currently live in.
NIMBYism Is Discrimination
Not only do we need to support new laws promoting multifamily housing production, we need to fight discrimination against it. Multifamily housing is essential to our future. Policy proposals such as rent control or stabilization or tenants guaranteed right of first refusal do nothing to solve the underlying cause of our high costs and will prevent this housing from being built.
In recent weeks, the legislature considered additional steps to address our housing shortage such as allowing accessory dwelling units by-right, increasing funding and expanding the Housing Development Incentive Program, better known as HDIP, and improving the Starter Home District law. Though none of these important reforms were enacted before the end of formal sessions, we trust that the legislature will continue to look at ways to advance these important policies we have advocated for in recent months.
In our own communities, we need to tackle the NIMBYism that has combined with exclusionary zoning laws to create this crisis. Scholars and leaders from across the political spectrum have noted that common exclusionary zoning policies in Massachusetts, such as large minimum lot sizes, prohibition on multifamily housing and building height limits, have historically been used to discriminate against people of color and to maintain property values in suburban and urban communities. We need to be mindful of such proposals and object to them when they are presented.
The solutions are clear but cannot happen without teamwork. The Massachusetts Association of Realtors will continue to advocate for them, but everyone must be willing to embrace more housing, even, sometimes, in their backyards. If we all do this, we will help keep Massachusetts competitive and make it the welcoming commonwealth we all want it to be.
Dawn Ruffini is the 2022 president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and a broker-owner with RE/MAX Connections.