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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

State of the State: Why we have a housing crisis, and how we solve it.

Massachusetts is becoming a victim of its own success. Our incredible economic development, wealth, education, presence of global corporations, and low unemployment is starting to squeeze our economy to death. In the last decade, Boston’s economic boom has created 245,000 jobs, an incredible feat in a city of just under 700,000 (1). These have been mostly excellent, well-paying, knowledge-sector careers, exactly the kind that every city dreams of. But there’s a dark side to this story that anyone who has lived here in these boom times knows very well.

Turns out, when you have a bunch of great jobs in your city and not enough people to work them, people will move in from all over the world. And when you only build 71,000 new units of housing to go with those 245,000 new jobs, well, the math just doesn’t work out (1). The result: gentrification and cultural elimination as thousands of people move into the city and take jobs with six-figure salaries. When people think of the city of Boston, they think of dropped r’s and tough Irish guys, like in the Departed. Nowadays, you’re more likely to hear Boston accents in the suburbs than the city. And it’s not just the Irish losing out. Communities of color are getting pushed out of the city fast, increasing their transit costs and harming their quality of life. It’s certainly better than the way things looked in the 60s and 70s, with economic malaise turning the city into a dreary, crime-ridden mess, but I can’t pretend I’m not a little sad to see the old city go.

However, the past isn’t coming back, and the best way to go is forward. So we must make sure to drive Boston into the future without choking on our own success, bringing in these new jobs and prosperity without losing our home, figuratively and literally. This issue is probably the most important one in Boston right now, with lifelong residents leaving their homes in droves, either for the suburbs and exurbs or, worse still, for the streets. The hot topic on City Council and Beacon Hill is rent control right now, but I can’t imagine a worse possible solution. Rent control would ban landlords from increasing rent more than a certain amount, preventing housing costs from going up with brute force. This solution is incredibly temporary, and fails to adequately address the root causes of the problem. It’s like telling someone who can’t figure out what to do with their overfilled wallet to set half of their money on fire. Rent control wants to take us back in time to an era that has long past and will never come back, just like Trump; to keep the old boys in town and keep out the plethora of industries and people that are going to keep Boston on the map.

The obvious solution: build more housing. We need to understand why all the new homes are million-dollar McMansions, not comfortable family duplexes. One of the biggest culprits is the over-regulation of housing and construction, both within the city and especially in the surrounding suburbs. The suburbs still have access to public transportation and to the highways, but towns all over the South Shore have prevented building in their jurisdictions, either through massive permitting fees and arduous oversight or simply through banning high-density housing (2). This is an area where the market will do its magic, if we will only support it.
 

The solution is action at the state level. The legislature needs to restrict municipal control over land-use legislation, especially in areas near public transit. They need to prevent municipalities from gouging permitting fees to such a degree that the only profitable building is of luxury residences. They need to close loopholes that allow municipalities to designate areas as environmentally-protected when that designation isn’t necessary. They need to improve the commuter rail system with things like full electrification, new cars, and expanding the MBTA into a full-fledged regional rail system, tying in all of Massachusetts and New England to take advantage of the lower cost of living in the outlying areas.
 

As UMass Boston students, we directly see the impact of the housing crisis in our surrounding community every day. Many of us live in the Harbor Point apartments, where rent for a one bedroom apartment currently stands at $2,300. The expansion and success of the University has been an overall boon for the University and residents of Boston, but it is starting to have a gentrifying effect, with the overall composition of the surrounding apartments being bid up incredibly high by students from all over the world looking to go to Boston’s public research university. Again, this is an overall boon for the city, but we can’t just take in these residents that will bring more prosperity to the city and forget about the communities that used to exist here. The University has worked hard to keep in contact with the local community and avoid destroying it, but there’s only so much we can do, and only so long before the University’s growth and success comes into conflict with that of the community we live in. We need the state to step in and help us, with more funding for dorms on our campus to drive down demand for apartments in the area, more frequent commuter rail service at JFK/UMass to give students more options to live outside of and inside the city, and many more small improvements that could help us both grow and coexist.

I am personally terrified that I will get this great education and an awesome job and still be forced out of the community that I love. So, please, write your legislators and tell them to build housesthe next generation of Massachusetts citizens is counting on you.
 

  1. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/01/29/magazine/success-is-killing-san-francisco-is-boston-next/

  2. https://bostonfairhousing.org/timeline/1970s-present-Local-Land_use-Regulations-2.html