Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s plan to develop 30,000 new housing units in Boston by the year 2020 is ambitious. But is it doable? And what major obstacles do we need to overcome?
Panelists at “The Race for Living Space,” a forum sponsored by Suffolk University Sawyer Business School and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, shared their thoughts on October 2. The event was moderated by NECN Business Editor Peter Howe.
One thing is clear—developing new housing is not an isolated goal. With it, Boston also needs to improve and expand public transportation and make a strategic plan for economic development, the panelists said.
Richard Davey, secretary and CEO of Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said he supports the $16.5 billion housing plan. Boston needs to be “bold and ambitious” to combat our growth, he said.
As Paul McMorrow, associate editor of Commonwealth Magazine, noted, Boston’s population grew more between 2010 and 2012 than it did during the entire 1990s.
Over the last 50 years, Boston has been undergoing a transformation, Lawrence DiCara, partner at Nixon Peabody said. Developers have taken an innovative approach to housing—converting commercial buildings into new housing units. The result? Neighborhoods that were once undesirable are now thriving.
But new housing is only successful if there is reliable and sufficient transportation available. "We will be a victim of our own success if we don't invest in our transportation system,” Davey said, noting that he MBTA is the second-largest land holder in Massachusetts.
Ted Tye, a founding partner of National Development, said it’s important to think beyond affordable housing. All types of housing, especially student housing, are key to keeping Boston’s brightest minds in the city.
Tye, who oversees major development projects, such as Station Landing, Woodland Station, Waterstone at Wellesley, and 20+ senior housing projects, noted that permitting is a major challenge that often delays development in Boston. He expects to see changes in the process after the mayoral election.
Another key point discussed was employment. Housing development and economic development go hand in hand, McMorrow said. If people are going to live in Boston, they need jobs. The future, McMorrow suggested, is Cambridge Innovation Center, MassChallenge, and companies that are drawn to incubators.
The event was the fifth in a series of Building Boston 2030 public forums on Boston development. The series encourages statewide dialogue on public policies and business considerations that can help Boston continue to create good jobs, attract and retain a skilled workforce, and attract private capital to spur innovation.