Let's step away from talk of recovery in the Greater Boston housing market, and realize that things could get much, much worse. We don't care if you just woke up! Pay attention: As Paul McMorrow notes in a Globe op-ed, the Hub housing crunch everyone's familiar with is getting crunchier by the month just about as developers (and their political enablers) build the wrong kind of housing, and the young, including the ever-precious techies, split the area rather than pay the increasingly high costs. It's bad, people, cats-and-dogs-living-together bad.
First, the wrong kind of housing. Over the last generation, most new housing in Greater Boston has been of the single-family variety:
Just 25 percent of the residential buildings built in eastern Massachusetts since 1990 have been in buildings with five or more units. That means that what little construction that has happened has consumed lots of land while failing to address the real affordability crisis that exists in Massachusetts. According to the Urban Land Institute, there is now a 25,000-unit housing shortage in Greater Boston. Researchers at the UMass Donahue Institute say that figure will swell to 46,000 units, if we keep building housing at the same pace we've been building at. We would also add that a lot of the new, much-celebrated housing being built in Boston, specifically, caters to singletons and childless couples as the vast majority of the housing is comprised of two-bedrooms or smaller. And, for all the volume of new housing (thousands of units, the tallest condo tower in Massachusetts, etc.), it could prove too little, too late.
Then there is the issue of the young people leaving, as if Mayor Menino himself were standing aloft, arms outstretched, parting the Turnpike traffic that they may have safe passage to Connecticut, New York or points beyond. Per McMorrow:
[O]ver the last decade, while the Massachusetts population was growing at a meager 3-percent clip, it lost 9 percent of its 25- to 34-year-olds. These are the recent college graduates and young families that the state’s economic future is built on. They're also the population that's most sensitive to the state’s deeply ingrained affordability crisis. And they're voting with their feet. We would also reiterate that many of these young people are meant to supply the Hub's tech sector with not only its workers but its ingenuity to fuel further growth. Not only that, but local governments, from Somerville to Boston proper (particularly Southie), have put most of their economic-development chips on "tech" for the foreseeable future, and private developers have followed. If the techies can't afford to make a long-term go of it here, then, well, you get the picture...
So, yes, rents are up (good for landlords and brokers) and sales prices are up (good for sellers and brokers); but if they go up too much, too fast, demand could slacken significantly. The solution? Build! Basta with government red tape and residents' skittishness! And build the right kind of housing, according to McMorrow, the land-smart kind that utilizes space and creates connectivity using our wheezing, but operational public-transit system. Before it's too late.
Have a nice day.
· Massachusetts Housing Crisis Continues [Globe]
· Boston Is for Lovers (Just Not Their Kids): a New Apt. Dynamic [Curbed Boston]
· South Boston to Get Hundreds of Manhattan Apartments [Curbed Boston]
· Boston's Tech Sector and Real Estate: What If, Part II? [Curbed Boston]
· Somerville to Board Tech Train as Mayor Praises 'Hipsters' [Curbed Boston]
· Somerville's Downward-Facing Doghouse and Hub's Apt. Future [Curbed Boston]