The gulf between the advocates and the politics

Affordable housing advocates were eager to get their hands on “The Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2015,” as it gives us new fodder to feed our mission. Costs are going up across the board–from land, to construction, to financing. Meanwhile, the state has over 4,000 homeless families in the emergency shelter system and tens of thousands more that are living on the economic margins.

It’s a great report and the problems are very real, very big and very entrenched, but what strikes me most is the incongruousness of the situation. A key conclusion is that we need to be able to build larger developments so that we can generate economies of scale to drive down costs. But at every town committee meeting I go to, and I go to lots and lots of them, the goal is to build innocuous affordable housing; keep it under the radar. “Political reality” trumps our crushing need every time. So, Community Preservation Committees and Housing Trusts and even many town planners, are now talking about how to get 2 units through town meeting. TWO UNITS! Some really bold and ambitious housing advocates might push for 10…

Up in the ether of the housing policy world, we’re talking about the need for thousands of units to meet the social and economic goals of the Commonwealth. And in towns and small cities we’re talking about single digits. How do we bridge this divide?

Maybe part of the answer is to dig deeper into the carrots and sticks that exists in communities for meeting housing production goals. Are Housing Production Plans working? Is the 40B “safe harbor” attainable for communities? Are 40R and 40S producing new units at a meaningful scale? And, how about those CPA dollars? Maybe the Commonwealth should have more strings attached to its match. Each community shares in the success of the Commonwealth. We also share in the challenge of addressing its problems.

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