Report: Housing market recovering, production boost needed

Michael Norton, State House News Service
Nov. 14, 2012

Describing a housing market on the upswing in Massachusetts, researchers on Wednesday released a report calling for a surge in housing production and predicting that young workers saddled by college debt and again Baby Boomers looking to downsize will compete for smaller dwellings that better suit their needs.

The release of the Greater Boston Housing Report Card came hours after Gov. Deval Patrick announced his plan to boost new multi-family housing units to 10,000 per year, up from less than 2,700 in each of the last two years. Written by Northeastern University Professor Barry Bluestone and employees at the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern, the Boston Foundation report uses projections from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and concludes that area developers may need to double or triple annual housing production to meet demand through 2020.

The report describes the last decade as a “roller coaster ride” for Massachusetts homeowners and developers and concludes that the signs of recovery are present – “rising home sales, low vacancy rates, recovering prices, high rents, growth in permits and a decline in foreclosures.”

Said Bluestone, “Whether this is leading to a return to the normal patterns that have prevailed in past decades or, alternatively, whether it signals a major transformation of the Greater Boston housing market is the big question this time around.” With housing permits averaging about 6,000 over the past five years, the report outlines two growth scenarios in which developers would need to either boost production to just over 12,000 per year or over 19,000 per year to accommodate economic growth. The report recommends that the state take advantage of low interest rates to invest in promising sites and buildings, like large mill buildings, “that are unlikely to be developed soon by the private sector, but are likely to be increasingly valuable in the future.”

It also calls for a new commission to examine development costs, an increased focus on student-oriented housing and residence hall construction, and the development of housing strategies that address the needs, including social and health services, of Baby Boomers.