Governor Deval Patrick put down a huge marker on housing last week. He said the state needs to build 10,000 new apartment and condominium units every year until the end of the decade, and he tied this mark to the state’s ability to sustain and grow its economy. Never mind the fact that the benchmark Patrick announced is enormously ambitious — according to the US Census Bureau, Massachusetts has only topped the 10,000 mark three times in the past three decades, and not once since 1987. If the state is going to ramp up new construction and ease the crippling housing-price spikes that drive workers out of state, it has to convince the cities and towns, which control the pace of new development, to actually believe in supply and demand.
Massachusetts struggles to turn the students it educates into workers and taxpayers because the state doesn’t have any power to dictate housing policy. Cities and towns, which control the pace of new construction, only permit new housing construction in fits and starts. As a result, during the last housing boom, prices jumped twice as much in Massachusetts as they did in the rest of the country. They’ve remained high in the bubble’s aftermath. Boston-area rents climbed steeply during the recent recession, and are now higher than they’ve ever been.