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Boston Housing Plan: Incentivize Developers, Cross Fingers

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Mayor Marty Walsh unveiled an ambitious plan for Boston to build 53,000 new housing units by 2030 to accommodate an expected 15 percent increase in the city's population. The Globe's Casey Ross has an excellent run-down of the details (and the paper's graphics team goes to town as well). But basically Walsh's plan hinges on incentivizing private development—of anything: affordable housing, market-rate apartments, dorm rooms. While parts of the plan are certainly laudable (transit-oriented development!)—and no one doubts Boston needs more housing yesterday—the scheme seems fatally flawed from the get-go.

One of the big end goals of Walsh's plan is 20,000 units of middle-income housing via incentivizing developers with looser zoning regulations and tax credits. Right now and for the foreseeable future, however, it's much more profitable for developers to build higher-end apartments and condos, the sorts that rent and sell for near-Manhattan-esque tags. The market's reward seems to far outweigh anything City Hall could offer. To truly make the building of less expensive housing worthwhile for developers, Walsh would have to ensure the city curbs the costs of construction significantly.

And that's the second factor that might doom his 2030 plan: the cost of building housing in Boston. It costs private developers a lot more to build housing in Boston, paying union rates, than even in nearby towns. Sometimes the difference can be up to $60 a square foot. Is the city seriously prepared to mitigate that? (Never mind much of Walsh's political base comes from organized labor.) Reversing decades of shitty public policy as well as a culture of ingrained opposition to sizable new development (to any development, it seems sometimes) won't be easy—nor cheap—for the city. Stay tuned.
· Walsh Wants 53,000 More Housing Units in Boston by 2030 [Globe]
· Chance for Union-Backed Mayor to Tackle Labor Costs [Curbed Boston]
· Parking, 'Project' Fears Doom West Roxbury Proposal [Curbed Boston]
· Boston, It's Time to Admit You Have an Inventory Problem [Curbed Boston]
· Why the Hub Housing Market Could Get Worse, Much Worse [Curbed Boston]