(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) - We’re always known super-expensive Greater Boston needs way more affordable housing. But Thursday regional planning experts put an astonishing new number on just how many new housing units the region will need by 2040 to keep the economy growing and accommodating new workers to replace retiring Baby Boomers: 300,000 to 435,000 more houses, apartments, condos, townhouses and micro-units.
"We have a lot of baby boomers who are likely to retire at an increasing pace over the course of the next few decades," said Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which conducted the study. "They're going to be leaving their jobs, and we need young workers to fill in those jobs if our economy's going to remain strong … We're going to have to have a place for those workers to live, and that means building more housing in the city of Boston, around the city of Boston, and even in urbanized areas in the suburbs, village centers, near commuter rail stations and other places."
The MAPC study takes into account demographics and also a growing trend that average household size has been steadily declining, and looks likely to keep declining, as more and more people live longer alone or unmarried or widowed or choosing not to have roommates.
But just how big a number is 435,000 housing units? According to Census Bureau data, that is as much housing as now exists in Boston, Quincy, Cambridge, Somerville, Chelsea, and Revere – combined. (The Census Bureau website showed as of 2010 272,481 housing units in Boston, 42,838 in Quincy, 47,291 in Cambridge, 33,720 in Somerville, 12,621 in Chelsea, and 22,100 in Revere.) Imagine the total housing stock in Boston and those five neighboring cities – and that’s what has to be built, all over again, over the next 26 years, according to the MAPC’s scenario that envisions the strongest economic growth.
Gregory Vasil, president of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, considers that goal extraordinarily difficult to reach. "It's going to be difficult, and I think we're going to have to change in terms of the kind of product and the kind of housing that we look into," Vasil said, with much more willingness for developers to build and residents to buy more land-efficient townhomes, apartments, and multi-until residential living. That, in turn, will require dozens of communities making big changes in what they’ll allow to be built and where within their borders.
"Zoning would be enormous" to change, Vasil said. "Many communities around Massachusetts, especially towns, don't have areas of their town and community zoned for a multi-family" development. Besides zoning, Vasil said, developing 435,000 more housing units around Greater Boston also could drive huge issues of water and sewer infrastructure, parking, and public transportation.
But Patricia L. Belden, chief operating officer of Preservation Of Affordable Housing, who has helped build or save 8,000 units of affordable housing nationally over the last 13 years, said she considers the MAPC’s target doable by 2040 – with the right attitudes and commitment.
"Zoning, water and sewer – they are barriers, but they are also barriers that can go away more readily with better coordination and communication," Belden said. For the region to reach anything close to the level of increased housing the MAPC identifies as necessary, Belden said, "That vision needs to be shared. It needs to be shared by cities and towns who have and play a part in it and see that a growing economy also is in their interest."
Before leaving office, former Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino late last year set a goal of 30,000 more housing units in Boston within a decade. Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick has floated a goal of 10,000 more housing units per year being constructed and developed across Massachusetts.
What the MAPC report suggests is that far from being bold or ambitious goals, those may just be down payments on the kind of new residential development needed for Greater Boston to maintain the kind of economic vibrancy it’s come to expect and depend on in the 1990s and 2000s.
"A strong economy depends on a strong workforce," Draisen said, "and those workers need somewhere to live -- or they're not going to come to the Boston region."
With videographer Dan Smith and video editor Lauren Kleciak
Tags: Boston, Peter Howe, Boston housing, housing needs
If we don’t have the housing we need, we can’t attract the people we need, and it discourages employers from moving to the region,” said Marc Draisen, the council’s executive director.
If there is strong growth, a large number of communities would see their population expand, some substantially, according to the report. Boston’s population could shoot from 617,000 in 2010 to more than 700,000 in 2030, with nearby urban areas also expecting growth.
‘If we don’t have the housing we need, we can’t attract the people we need, and it discourages employers from moving to the region.’
MARC DRAISEN, Executive director, Metropolitan Area Planning Council
In the Globe North area, Everett, Revere, Somerville, Methuen, and Malden could grow more than 20 percent by the year 2030, according to the report. But 14 communities are projected to lose residents, including Boxford, Wenham, Nahant, Newbury, and Topsfield.
The region will see strong growth if it can build enough housing, particularly apartments and condos in urban areas and town centers, if it can attract and retain more young people, and if the trend toward urban living continues, according to the report.