Dot's boom-time increases pressure for housing starts

The pace of change in this corner of the city may best be described as break-neck. The indicators are around every corner: Longtime businesses are being sold in Adams Corner — including Sonny’s and Gerard’s. The new owners promise to make renewed and welcome investments into the business districts. Large new projects - including DotBlock and the expansion of South Bay mall – are rapidly advancing through city reviews. More modest mid-sized developments are underway in Four Corners and Neponset.

Meanwhile, housing prices are steadily rising. The Boston Metro this week reported that a single-family home on Savin Hill has come under agreement for just over $1 million, a figure that would make that the first seven-digit sale in Dorchester during the present cycle. Homes that do come on the market are snatched up within days.

The likelihood is that this rush of activity marks just the opening moments of an unprecedented period of growth for Boston’s largest neighborhood. The regional economy is expanding. The latest jobs report from the state notes that Massachusetts has added 46,900 jobs this year, bringing the unemployment rate to 4.6 percent— below the national rate of 5.1 percent. The latest forecast for New England is “strong growth,” according to economists.

The State House News Service reported this week that Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told an audience at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston last week that the economy could be back to full employment by next summer, which would trigger an increase in wage growth.

These larger forces are very much part of the local boom, as people who are being priced out of other Boston communities are looking to Dorchester as a livable, relatively affordable place to live. That’s a welcome change from periods in which our community was seen as a place to avoid. But it also means that pressures – mainly in the form of rent increases – will make this community less tenable for people of more limited means.

This is why it’s important for the Walsh administration and related agencies at the state level to adhere to or surpass the goals outlined in Mayor Walsh’s housing plan. Issued last year, the document called for a build-out of 53,000 new housing units – a 20 percent increase over the current housing stock – between now and 2030.

Last week, the mayor announced a new initiative aimed at middle-income housing option. The Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab, or “i-team” as it’s called at City Hall, will enlist experts in design and planning to help meet Walsh’s goal of building at least 20,000 units of “workforce housing.” The office, Walsh said, will be headed by Susan Nguyen and Marcy Ostberg, two women with deep experience in the field.

The “i-team” will explore ideas that “will potentially drive down the cost to build, buy, and own homes in the city of Boston. The team will be actively seeking input from internal and external housing experts as well as from Boston residents to gather and generate potential ideas to solve this issue,” according to an announcement released by Walsh’s office.

“Having Susan and Marcy in place to lead the “i-team” will help ensure that Boston remains a city that is affordable to people at all economic levels. No city in the United States has solved the middle income housing challenge yet; I want Boston to be the first,” said Walsh in a statement.

That’s an ambitious goal. But, as anyone who monitors the local real estate market knows well, it’s also becoming an imperative in communities like Dorchester.

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