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14 area cities and towns pledge to push for new housing development

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press/File 2017

Officials in 14 cities and towns unveiled a new agreement to boost housing development in a bid to blunt rising rents and home prices.

By Globe Staff 

Mayors of 14 Boston-area cities and towns are pledging to work together to address the region’s severe housing shortage.

The Metropolitan Mayors Coalition — which includes leaders of inner-ring municipalities from Braintree to Brookline to Winthrop — on Tuesday are expected to unveil a new agreement to boost housing development in a bid to blunt rising rents and home prices that make Greater Boston one of the most expensive areas in the country in which to live. It’s a recognition, they say, that housing costs are a regional problem, in need of a regional solution.

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“It’s really important not to look at yourself on an island any more,” said Medford Mayor Stephanie Burke. “When we [mayors] get together and talk, housing is an issue that comes up frequently. It’s a priority for all of us to try and balance it.”

The officials don’t yet have a numerical target in mind, or a breakdown of where this housing might go. Those details will be hashed out during a planning process expected to last several months.

But the agreement alone cheered housing advocates, who long have said Greater Boston’s communities need to work together to tackle the issue. A report last month from The Boston Foundation found that housing development in recent years has been overwhelmingly concentrated in Boston and a handful of close-by cities, with many suburban towns adding little new supply.

“Some communities have been building a lot. Others haven’t been building as much. I think now the mayors and city managers are saying we need to help each other out,” said Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which is helping organize the group. “Our economic success rises or falls as a region. It’s not just one city or town at a time.”

Of course, decisions about housing are not just up to mayors and city managers. Some housing-friendly mayors — such as Setti Warren in Newton — have had projects they support thwarted by city councils and planning boards, which hear from residents worried about increased traffic or overcrowded schools. The key to winning support for this new push, Burke said, will be planning that balances those legitimate concerns with the needs of the region, and selecting the right locations to concentrate new building.

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“We don’t want people to be nervous that the goal is to put up 500 apartments on every empty lot,” she said. “We want to do this in a smart way, build close to transit, that sort of thing.”

The push has the support of Governor Charlie Baker, who has freed up funding for affordable housing and reportedly is readying legislation aimed at boosting suburban development. It’s also welcome news in Boston’s City Hall, where the Walsh administration has permitted more than 23,000 new housing units since 2014, part of its effort to reach 53,000 by 2030.

The city will keep pushing towards that goal, said Sheila Dillon, director of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development, but Boston can’t tackle the region’s high cost of housing on its own.

“The region’s needs far exceed what we can do,” Dillon said. “The solution really is in adding more housing in all of the surrounding cities and towns.”

The 14 cities and towns in which officials have agreed to work on increasing the region’s housing stock, as part of the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition of Greater Boston, include Boston, Braintree, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Newton, Quincy, Revere, Somerville, and Winthrop.


Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.