Realtors can attest to it, business leaders are worried about it, and some politicians say they are working to fix it: In parts of Massachusetts, finding a place to live is difficult.
This is true in many of the suburbs south of Boston, where housing is expensive and scarce, people are slow to sell their homes because they don’t know where they’ll find the next one, and many towns are not interested in permitting new, large-scale housing projects.
One of the region’s major business groups commissioned a study recently on how a housing shortage can have negative effects on the economy, and it found that even modest economic growth of 1 percent annually will require an additional 2,200 housing units per year.
“We do have a risk of stagnating,” said Peter Forman, chief executive of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, which released the study in 2017. “The best way to do that is to fall behind housing production, or to keep building either age-restricted, 55-plus communities or big houses no young people can afford.”
More housing would make the region more competitive, by attracting workers and businesses, according to the chamber. Without a housing inventory that can accommodate younger workers and families, those shut out will look to build a life elsewhere, the report states. The authors recommend more dense housing near public transit and walkable neighborhoods, and more housing of all types, at all price points, including housing that will accommodate empty-nesters who want to downsize.
The housing market is tight in part because older people who would be happier in a newer, smaller house or condominium closer to the center of town can’t find what they’re looking for, said Melissa Mayer, a realtor based in Canton.
“Inventory is by far the biggest challenge,” she said.
April Donahue and her boyfriend were looking to buy a home and wanted to stay in Quincy, where they rented, but found nothing in their price range. After doing a lot of looking online at which cities and towns offered more reasonable housing prices and a commute to Boston that wasn’t terrible, they ended up in Brockton.
“Because the housing market was so slim, you had to be open-minded geographically,” Donahue said.
Some local elected officials understand that the region must be resolute about producing more housing inventory, suitable for various family sizes and incomes. A group of 14 mayors of cities and towns around Boston unveiled an agreement in December to boost housing development. The Metropolitan Mayors Coalition of Greater Boston, now hammering out details of the pact, includes the mayors of Quincy and Braintree.
In Quincy, where new developments of varying sizes seem to be announced every other week, Mayor Thomas Koch has embraced the addition of new units, even as some in the city are wary.
In his January state of the city address, Koch said adding housing inventory is the only way to make housing more affordable. “There is no reason we can’t support growth and protect our neighborhoods at the same time,” he said.
Governor Charlie Baker has also given hope to housing advocates with his announcement in December to offer incentives to communities that build more housing, with a goal of creating 135,000 new units by 2025.
People who work in real estate or are stakeholders in the housing market said that while the shortage is widespread, many towns remain resistant to new construction.
“No towns that I know of want multifamily,” said Paul Schneiders, a lawyer based in Canton who often goes before town boards representing large-scale residential projects. “Everybody says there’s a crying need for affordable housing but not in my town.”
The idea that many suburbs are not producing enough housing to deal with demand was reinforced in a November report by the Boston Foundation, whose Greater Boston Housing Report Card found that Boston and inner-ring communities were producing housing but that there was not enough construction activity in other suburbs.
Allicyn Aubut and her family wanted to move from Canton to Duxbury in summer 2016, but found that there weren’t enough properties on the market in Duxbury in their price range. There was nothing to rent, either.
“There’s nowhere for people to go; there’s not a lot of houses,” she said.
Aubut’s original budget for a home in Duxbury was $650,000-$750,000, but she and her husband had to raise it by $50,000 to buy the house they wanted.
Meanwhile, developers trying to build lower-priced housing run into resistance in many municipalities, even when their projects are proposed in downtown areas, said Carl Nagy-Koechlin, executive director of Housing Solutions for Southeastern Massachusetts.
“That is such a challenge to get any multifamily housing developed,” he said.
His organization helps families who qualify for housing assistance, but he said families often cannot find a place to live, to use the available subsidies.
“The pipeline of new, moderately priced housing is not where it needs to be to meet the need,” he said.
In Sharon, a plan to add a residential component to Sharon Gallery, a proposed shopping destination, won a necessary two-thirds vote at Town Meeting last year. But the victory came only after two years of debate, and even on the night of the vote residents were voicing concerns over whether the town had enough water to accommodate new residents and enough room in the schools.
In Canton, town officials welcomed TopGolf, which wants to build a golf entertainment complex, in part because the project did not include housing, said John Connolly, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
“That would raise havoc with our infrastructure, school system, and police and fire,” he said.
Every proposed residential project has to be evaluated on whether it’s a good fit for the town, Connolly said. Canton has safe harbor from Chapter 40B, the state law that allows greater latitude for developers of affordable housing, because the town has 12.5 percent affordable units, above the 10 percent threshold.
“We’ve fought hard to make sure we’ve done our part,” Connolly said.Jill Terreri Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jillterreri.