For 30 years, the multifamily industry has been caught in the middle of a tug of war with the state and local governments in Massachusetts.
Though the production of more rental units is integral to the growth of the state, many communities, namely single-family strongholds, are still staunchly against multifamily projects. But the lack of rental units across the state is starting to cause something of a brain drain among the Gen Y crowd.
“We’re trying to break a stalemate,” Massachusetts’ housing and economic development secretary Gregory Bialecki said at an Urban Land Institute forum in January. “The approach the state has taken is what I call an ‘eat your veggies’ strategy. ‘I know you don’t want this, but it’s necessary.' It hasn’t been effective.”
The state already lost a congressional district in 2010 after seeing just moderate census numbers, and multifamily starts have been down. So far, Boston’s scheduled completions are well short of the state’s 10,000 unit starts per year goal—the city’s inventory will grow roughly 1.5 percent this year as it sees about 6,500 completions.
Bialecki is actively working with Northeastern University in Boston to figure out how to educate local governments about keeping young people and their families in the state over the next decade. Families with children are almost as likely to rent as a single person now, making up about 30 percent of the rental population, while singles are about 35 percent, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies’ latest American Rental Housing report.
A big part of that education process is changing the perception of multifamily in NIMBY-heavy areas. Municipalities should view the production of apartments as integral to the state's future as roads and bridges. The state is working to create a prompt and predictable permitting process
“For projects to be successful there needs to be an investment in infrastructure,” Bialecki says. “If you’re going to grow, and if we add multifamily housing in a way that makes sense, we ought to plan for it. You shouldn’t wait for it to happen.”
There are plenty of regional shopping centers on the highways that aren’t doing too well now, Bialecki adds. The discussion needs to be about how to bring in housing for a walkable neighborhood.
“[Young renters] still want a walkable environment,” says Tom Bozzuto, chairman and CEO of The Bozzuto Group, based in Washington, D.C. “When they get home, they want to be able to walk across the plaza, and get a meal. And they want to have choices.”
—Linsey Isaacs is an assistant editor with Multifamily Executive magazine. Follow her on twitter @LinseyI to continue this conversation.