Last month, the Public Interest Leadership Program (PILP) heard a presentation from Judith Jacobson, Calandra Clark, and Tom Hopper of Massachusetts Housing Partnership (“MHP”), where Jacobson is the Deputy Director and General Counsel, and Clark and Hopper are the Co-Directors of MHP’s Center for Housing Data. MHP is a statewide public non-profit that works in concert with the Governor and the state Department of Housing and Community Development to increase the supply of affordable housing in Massachusetts.
Jacobson began by providing an overview of MHP, its history, and the reach of its projects. MHP was established in 1985 to increase the Commonwealth’s overall rate of housing production and to work with municipalities to meet the growing need for affordable housing. In 1990, the Massachusetts legislature passed legislation that requires companies acquiring Massachusetts banks to make funds available to MHP for affordable housing. Since its creation, MHP has provided assistance for affordable housing in over 330 Massachusetts communities. That includes more than $1.1 billion in loans and commitments for the financing of over 23,000 units of rental housing. Those financial resources have gone toward new construction as well as renovations of existing properties.
Clark and Hopper then discussed the affordable housing problem in Massachusetts in more detail, noting that annual production of housing has been in decline in Massachusetts since the 1960s. Housing prices have surged, resulting in Massachusetts having the 7th highest rents in the country and the Metro Boston area having the 4th highest rents after San Francisco, San Jose, and New York. Vacancy rates are incredibly low statewide, not just in the more densely populated counties like Suffolk and Middlesex, but also in western counties with smaller populations, like Hampshire and Franklin, both of which have rental vacancies below 2% and homeownership vacancies of less than 1%. MHP estimates that Massachusetts needs 38,000 housing units to meet current statewide demand.
One of the issues preventing the construction of that housing is restrictive zoning laws, according to Clark and Hooper. Many communities in Massachusetts have enacted zoning laws that make it difficult if not impossible for developers to build affordable housing. On a related topic, many zoning ordinances require new housing that looks little like the current housing in those municipalities. For example, only 22 residential buildings in Somerville meet the current zoning code. The others are too dense, too close to the road, too tall, etc. The meeting ended with a question and answer session, as Jacobson, Clark, and Hooper discussed how to get involved locally and what statewide measures were under consideration within the legislature to address affordable housing.
Meeting recap provided by PILP Member John Weaver (McLane Middleton).