According to recent studies, Massachusetts is one of many leading states in the country in an inauspicious statistic – the number of people choosing to leave the state. We are losing population at a staggering rate, while other states are rapidly adding residents.
I think there are many reasons for these numbers. High taxes, authoritarian mandates that do not respect individual liberty, and a lack of parental choice in education and healthcare decisions all top the list. But for many, the high cost of living is the driving factor, including the lack of affordable housing in Massachusetts.
Our state needs a new approach that helps more people achieve the American Dream of homeownership while preserving the character of our communities.
Unfortunately, state policy continues to lead us in the wrong direction by confusing housing affordability with housing density.
Transit zoning and overreach
Too often, our housing laws aim to squeeze more housing units into smaller spaces near cities and the transportation hubs that serve them.
For example, a recent state law requires 175 Eastern Massachusetts communities served by the MBTA to re-zoning to accommodate greater housing density – much more.
Communities will need to have at least one zoning district where multi-family housing is permitted as of right, whether residents like it or not. Many communities in and around the Interstate 495 belt will be required to build hundreds of new multifamily housing units — against local preferences — just to comply with arbitrary state rules.
Meanwhile, at least one Boston-area city is considering going even further, with a proposal reportedly under consideration to scrap single-family zoning in favor of high-density alternatives.
This strategy serves the developers, but not the people in these communities. It takes a limited view of host communities as mere sleeping quarters for urban employment. Density puts pressure on schools and other local resources, and regulations requiring this zoning are an unfunded mandate. Additionally, the strategy appears outdated at a time when more and more jobs are moving out of cities or, in some cases, into work-from-home roles.
Let Locals Drive Development
A better process starts with creating strong employment opportunities in our suburbs, creating less pressure to commute to town for work and more opportunities to leave town to live. Naturally, this process will lead to the creation of more housing stock in outlying areas, and under a more manageable plan that respects local resources.
We also need to build infrastructure in areas of our state that have traditionally been left out of the process and are in desperate need of investment to fund upgrades to their core systems. This includes improving roads and bridges, ensuring that public services are sufficient and improving municipal buildings so that they can adequately meet local needs.
The rationalization of permits is often cited as a major need in order to relaunch the creation of more housing. I support efficient and streamlined services for permits and other government functions. But I also favor local control of the process.
We must also carefully consider the financing of the house. As a state representative several years ago, I led our state to create a special commission to study issues with the credit industry and to identify ways to keep people out of foreclosure and in Their houses. I also offered expanded emergency assistance for certain people at risk of foreclosure due to circumstances beyond their control. I believe we can do more in this area, including holding accountable lenders who engage in unfair or discriminatory practices in the housing market.
There is no doubt that we need more housing. And we need to make housing more affordable so that it is accessible to more people. But how we expand our housing stock makes a big difference to the future sustainability of our communities. Let’s make smart housing decisions now to ensure a better future for Massachusetts and a more affordable lifestyle for Bay Staters.
Geoff Diehl is a resident of Whitman and is the Republican Party’s officially endorsed candidate for governor of Massachusetts in the Sept. 6 gubernatorial primary.