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Governor Patrick details multifamily housing plan

Goal is to keep young professionals in Massachusetts

Governor Deval Patrick detailed a plan Tuesday to produce 10,000 multifamily housing units a year through 2020 in an effort to keep young professionals from leaving Massachusetts.

The initiative includes a program called Compact Neighborhoods that will encourage and create housing near workplaces, public transportation, and city and village centers, Patrick said.

The plan is meant to complement other state initiatives that promote so-called smart-growth — the creation of housing near train stations and urban centers, state officials said. It would more than double the amount of housing with five or more units — including apartments and condominiums — expected to be built by the end of this year, the state said.


"Access to housing for our middle- and moderate-income families is an important component in the Commonwealth's continued growth to retain and build our young and innovative workforce," Patrick said in a statement.

The move comes amid a growing chorus of housing specialists who are stressing the importance of building more higher-density housing. On Wednesday, a Boston nonprofit is scheduled to release its annual report forecasting that an increasing number of home buyers will seek "smaller, more transit-oriented developments" rather than traditional suburban single-family homes.

The report by the nonprofit Boston Foundation calls for the state to double or triple its housing development in the region as young professionals and baby boomers compete for the same types of homes in Suffolk, Essex, Middlesex, Plymouth, and Norfolk counties.

Barry Bluestone, director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, and lead author of the study, said he was "thrilled" to learn about the governor's goal to bolster the creation of multifamily residences.

Bluestone said housing demand over the next eight years will be led by younger families with significant debt, and older people looking to downsize.


"We are about to see a very dramatic shift in the overall demand for housing and the type of housing people will want," he said.

Marc Draisen, executive director of the regional Metropolitan Area Planning Council, also praised the new state initiative, saying it will focus public and private efforts on a similar goal. The council predicts the Boston area will expand by 120,000 households — most of them younger families — between 2010 and 2020.

"I'm very glad the governor has set a goal," he said. "What we really need is multifamily homes."

Under Patrick's plan, there will be financial incentives for communities that build more densely — at least eight units per acre for multifamily homes and at least four units per acre for single-family homes — according to Aaron Gornstein, the Massachusetts undersecretary for Housing and Community Development. Incentives include priority access to state funding for infrastructure improvements, among other resources, he said. To be eligible, developments must reserve at least 10 percent of units for lower-income tenants, Gornstein said.

Local governments promoting such projects would not have to comply with the state's more contentious affordable-housing law, Chapter 40b. That law allows builders to bypass certain zoning restrictions in communities where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is classified as affordable.

Compact Neighborhoods is one of several programs meant to reach the goal of building 10,000 new housing units a year, Gornstein said. Others include a program known as Chapter 40R, which promotes development close to public transportation, so residents have easy access to city jobs.


"We are trying to promote more compact development, affordable and market-rate housing near centers, near transit, and where jobs are being created," Gornstein said.

Some housing specialists are less optimistic about high-density growth in farther-flung areas. Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser is skeptical that families will want to live in multifamily complexes without urban amenities. He also questioned whether 10,000 units will be enough to meet growing housing needs.

"I think it is going to take stronger medicine,'' Glaeser said.

Patrick spoke Tuesday at a housing conference in Worcester titled "Under one roof," sponsored by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Wednesday, housing specialists are scheduled to meet at the Boston Foundation's downtown offices to discuss the group's 10th annual report, called the Greater Boston Housing Report Card.

Bluestone conceded that many communities are resistant to building homes too close together, but he said high-density housing is essential to meet the needs of both seniors and younger professionals.

"Back 20 or 30 years ago, everybody wanted to live in the suburbs, with the backyard and the swing set," he said. "That demand is going to weaken."

Jenifer B. McKim can be reached at jmckim@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @jbmckim.