clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Boston’s housing-construction effort: Is it already too late?

City commits to boosting its housing stock by 69,000 over the next 12 years—but that might not do much to bring down prices


Boston needs more housing. To that end, Mayor Marty Walsh in late September committed the city to facilitating the construction of 69,000 new apartments and condos by 2030, with a sizable proportion designated as affordable.

It’s a big step up from the previous goal in 2014 of 53,000 units by the same end point, and it’s all part of what Walsh described to the Globe’s Tim Logan as a way to make Boston a city for all rather than for a few looking for a kind of urban Disneyland (see much of Manhattan these days).

“We can’t be a city just for the wealthy and affluent,” Walsh said. “That’s not Boston.”

But the new construction might not be enough to do anything about that affordability. The city has already added at least 18,000 new units this decade, and prices and rents still remain high.

The reason is that the city remains absurdly popular. It’s slapping on residents at a pace most older U.S. metropolises would envy. Boston’s population is now projected to reach nearly 760,000 by 2030, an increase from about 673,000 today. As others have pointed out, that’s the equivalent of adding a Somerville to Boston a little over a decade.

Even 69,000 new units will not be enough to satiate the demand sure to build—at least not to the point where prices and rents come down sharply. Again, look at the recent history. To be sure, any new housing will be much appreciated by prospective tenants and buyers—it’s just not going to be significantly cheaper (which, again, is supposed to be the goal here).

And, just as an aside, it is unclear where much of this new housing will go as Boston is running low on sites for major complexes, particularly ones in or close to its downtown core. And it’s also unclear if the city’s other infrastructure—roads, bike lanes, sewage, state-run mass transit, etc.—can handle the introduction of so much housing, especially farther out. (Taken the Red Line lately?)

So maybe Boston’s uber-pricey housing market is like climate change: It’s too late to reverse it at this point, but it can be mitigated; and that’s what the new 2030 target is all about.

Walsh acknowledged as much, telling the Globe’s Logan that there needs to be a regional solution to the housing crunch in this densely knitted civic patchwork of ours; that even the region’s largest member can’t definitively tilt affordability one way or another. It’s a team effort.

Next month, Walsh and 13 other mayors from municipalities within Route 128 will together release revised targets for housing construction, an effort that the Metropolitan Area Planning Council organized. That group says eastern Massachusetts will need 435,000 new units by 2040. Stay tuned.