We have inclusive, diverse communities where everyone can afford to live and thrive.

Metro Boston neighborhoods are becoming more economically segregated and racial desegregation lags significantly behind other metropolitan regions. The principle drivers of these trends are high housing prices, income disparities, and discriminatory lending and renting practices. Our current population and housing demand projections estimate that Metro Boston needs to build 435,000 units of housing – mostly multifamily – between 2010 and 2040 to meet increasing demand and maintain current affordability. Unfortunately, we are falling far short, meaning that our region is becoming increasingly unaffordable for families. Families are increasingly cost-burdened in our region, spending well over 30% of their income on housing.[^8]

Since 2012, the rate of cost burden has been trending up for the renter population and down for the homeowner population. The trend indicates a growing housing cost burden gap between homeowners and renters, increasing the vulnerability of the region’s renters who are disproportionately people of color. Neighborhoods with a high concentration of cost-burdened residents, especially renters, are at risk of rapid population turnover when housing costs rise even slightly or when these households face economic setbacks. Tempering the rising cost of housing will be a critical step in ensuring that the earnings of Metro Boston residents are sufficient to enable them to make a home and remain financially stable. Of course, housing costs are only one side of the equation; job opportunities and growing wages are also essential, as discuss further below.  At the same time, policies that encourage affordability do not necessarily promote inclusiveness. As neighborhoods change – physically, economically, socially – we can take steps that protect diversity and create welcoming environments. Likewise, places can grow stronger and more resilient by accommodating people with a mixture of unique perspectives and experiences. Integrating new people while honoring those who have been part of a place history does require intention. Policies provide a framework for how the state and cities and towns can manage a changing environment while providing an opportunity for all to benefit from inclusiveness.

Protect tenants, increase the supply of homes that low-and middle-income families can afford to buy, and help all residents stay where they live.

The lack of affordable housing options in Metro Boston negatively impacts the region’s ability to house our economically and ethnically diverse residential base and to support a thriving economy. Half the region’s renters and 30% of homeowners are cost burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their annual household income on housing. Policy responses to the affordability crisis include preserving the existing affordable housing supply, increasing the stock of housing, both affordable and market rate, and ensuring that below market-rate units are occupied by households with corresponding incomes. Special attention must be paid to ensuring that adequate and affordable housing is available for families with children, seniors downsizing from larger homes, and people with disabilities – all populations that historically have limited housing choices.

  • Pass comprehensive zoning reform in order to encourage affordable housing production and eliminate discriminatory zoning practices.

    Massachusetts has a long history of residential segregation, which can be traced in large part to restrictive local zoning and permitting decisions, as well as discriminatory real estate and lending practices. Comprehensive zoning reform in Massachusetts must promote inclusive neighborhoods where families with children and households with low-or-moderate incomes can find homes.

    Massachusetts has not comprehensively updated its core zoning and subdivision laws in several decades. Municipalities across the Commonwealth use existing zoning laws as a way to prevent changes that would allow more affordable homes, condominiums, and apartments. An update to the Commonwealth’s outdated zoning laws should ensure that most cities and towns will allow at least some districts where multi-family housing can be built, while encouraging municipalities to adopt bylaws or ordinances that ensure at least a portion of this housing will be deed-restricted affordable. Both of these tools will help to increase housing type diversity and affordability in Metro Boston and across the Commonwealth.

  • Provide additional funds for preservation and production of affordable homes and continue to fund existing smart-growth incentive zoning.

    To meaningfully address our state’s housing crisis, we have to dedicate greater resources to preserving and producing affordable homes. Some particularly important elements of our housing production system include adequate funding for the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the Housing Innovation Fund, and the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program. Adequate funds for the modernization of public housing are essential. The state should continue to fund the Commonwealth’s smart growth incentive programs under Chapters 40R and 40S, so that cities and towns can implement smart growth zoning overlays and feel confident that when they do, any possible impacts on school capacity will be meaningfully offset by state funding.[^9]

  • Pass legislation aimed at increasing protections for renters.

    Legislation that would give tenants a right to counsel in eviction proceedings, require just-cause evictions, protect paying tenants when a home is foreclosed or sold for a tax lien, and offer tenants the right of first refusal in the event that their property is sold are modest steps that would help reduce housing insecurity. When tenants are defended by counsel in court proceedings, they are more likely to remain in their homes. Just-cause eviction laws protect tenants from unfair or discriminatory evictions, while a right of first refusal would give tenants an opportunity to purchase or assign their right to purchase a property, thereby increasing housing stability. Additionally, we should pass legislation that would give a tax credit to landlords who rent at below-market rates, helping to incentivize these landlords to maintain rents that are affordable, especially for low- and moderate-income tenants, and to protect neighborhoods from the effects of inflation. Also, tenants generally lack any protection against eviction when the home in which they are living is foreclosed, or when a municipality sells the property for tax collection – even if the tenant is up to date on her rent. Protections in such instances are essential ways for the tenant’s housing circumstances to remain stable, even if the underlying property is undergoing a change of ownership.

  • Facilitate affordable housing production for a range of low-income households.

    Currently, most affordable housing requirements are aimed at households with incomes at 80% of the area median or below. As a result, the majority of new units are affordable to households with incomes closest to that ceiling. The area median income (AMI) for a four-person household in the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) for Metro Boston is $103,400. The MSA is an area so geographically large that it includes municipalities in Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Plymouth Counties, and even parts of New Hampshire. High wealth suburbs in the MSA drive up our region’s AMI, which ultimately means that most deed-restricted affordable units are not actually within financial reach of many in need in Metro Boston. Moreover, very low-income (30-50% of AMI) and extremely low-income (30% of AMI and below) working households are growing in number and as a share of the region’s population. To address the increasing need within the context of an elevated AMI, affordable housing requirements should be adjusted to include a portion of homes for those with incomes between 50% and 80% of the AMI, between 30% and 50%, and even 30% and below.

Zoning laws have not been updated in 40 years


Housing First Initiative

Housing First is an approach that provided immediate access to permanent housing for individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness. By contrast to approaches that seek to graduate people who are homeless through short-term housing and treatment, the Housing First approach provides permanent housing with out preconditions and includes supportive services (e.g., medication management, counseling). Research has provided strong evidence that the combination of immediate access to permanent housing and to supportive services has reduced homelessness.[^11] In addition, there is strong evidence that the approach reduces hospitalizations for those who are homeless and have mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Currently, both public sector agencies and hospital systems are making investments into housing stability using the Housing First approach as model. Examples include Housing First Initiative Programs run by the Homeless Services Bureau of the Boston Public Health Commission[^12] and the housing-focused Community Health Initiative of Boston Medical Center.[^13]

Ensure residents with low incomes, people of color, and other protected classes have access to homes that suit their needs.

Discriminatory practices still limit homeownership. For instance, high-income applicants who are Black or Latino are denied a mortgage at rates that are 7-to-12 percentage points higher than applicants who are white and of similar economic status. Since homeownership gaps play a key role in the nation’s widening racial wealth gap,[^14] the racial disparities in Metro Boston homeownership rates and home loan denial rates are limiting the capacity of Metro Boston residents of color and their municipalities to build wealth.

  • Continue to enforce the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule.

    The rule, promulgated under the Obama administration, required that jurisdictions that receive federal housing funding not only document barriers to integration and opportunity, but also detail and prioritize policies to eradicate these barriers. The Trump Administration has delayed implementation of this rule, and indicated they have no intention to read any plans currently submitted until 2020. But the main purpose of these plans – to help local governments to understand and eliminate discriminatory practices – remains as important as ever. At the local level, cities and towns should continue moving forward to develop Assessments of Fair Housing, and MAPC will continue to assist them both to develop these plans and to implement their recommendations.

  • Prioritize housing stock diversity across Massachusetts communities.

    Across our region, small single-family homes are being torn down and replaced with larger, more expansive single-family properties. The new homes are generally higher priced and are not viable options for low- and moderate-income would-be homeowners. At the same time, developers of new, multi-family residential developments often disregard guidelines that encourage a bedroom mix inclusive of 3-bedroom units, instead opting to build studio, one- and two-bedroom units, which limits opportunities for displaced families seeking homes in gentrifying neighborhoods. Local legislative action should request that a range of home sizes be provided through redevelopment or limit replacement to similar footprints. These actions may help minimize the impact of teardowns on neighborhoods. In addition, municipalities should encourage development of smaller single-family homes, multi-family units in smart growth locations and the opportunity for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) that make homes more accessible, especially to those with limited incomes, aging residents, and people with disabilities.

Black and Latino home mortgage applications are twice as likely to be denied as their White counterparts.


Community Engagement

Planning processes should include significant community engagement and outreach to include participation from older adults, persons with disabilities, people of color, immigrants, people for whom English is not their primary language, and women.

For example, equitable community engagement was a critical component of efforts to build on the Vision for Downtown Lynn. MAPC partnered with the city of Lynn to convene a project team of advisors, conducted interviews with community leaders, gave presentations to community-based organizations, attended community events, talked with people we encountered on the street or at local businesses, interacted with community members using social media such as Facebook as well as via email, collected land use and property data using local volunteers, and hosted two public forums downtown. It is often unfeasible to get input from every single resident, but this targeted approach provided an informed perspective to guide planning recommendations.

Ensure that our communities are inclusive, representative and democratic.

In order for residents living in Metro Boston to thrive and contribute to their fullest, they must feel a sense of inclusivity, belonging, and control. We must preserve and protect rights for all of the residents in our Commonwealth. For example, we must ensure that voting continues to be a right, preserved by removing barriers to voter registration and encouraging participation in municipal elections.

We also live in a time when current federal immigration policies exclude and ostracize immigrants, reducing opportunities for them to civically engage, and putting the onus on local governments to enforce and enact policies to make immigrants feel safe and welcome. Undocumented immigrants create incredible value, enhancing the rich culture of our region and adding to our workforce and economic development.

  • Enact automatic voter registration throughout Massachusetts

    Automatic voter registration enables a government agency, usually the Registry of Motor Vehicles, to automatically register a citizen upon state license or ID issuance or renewal, unless the person declines to do so. The citizen’s information is then sent to the appropriate election office for verification of voting eligibility. Currently, nine states and the District of Columbia have enacted automatic voter registration policies, as they serve to increase voter registration rates and help to eliminate existing barriers to voter registration.

  • Make Massachusetts a sanctuary state

    Federal law bars state and local agencies or officials from restricting the transmission of information regarding the immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.[^15] Sanctuary state legislation could take several different forms, but at its core, it would prohibit state and local resources from being used to enforce immigration laws that are the responsibility of the federal government, even while the state and municipalities comply completely with federal law. It could also go further to prevent law enforcement officers from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status unless it is pertinent to the crime at issue or further limit federal Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agents from accessing information on booking lists or release dates unless a person is serving a sentence for a serious violent felony. Ensuring that our state continues to foster trust among and remain welcoming to all residents, regardless of where they come from or the circumstances of their arrival, is vital to the long-term economic and social wellbeing of the entire Commonwealth.

  • Cultivate competency for service provision to residents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.

    As a just and fair society, we seek and use approaches that allow for greater inclusion. In Metro Boston and Massachusetts, there are policy actions that can foster greater inclusion and responsiveness to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) residents. This includes partnering with representatives of the LGBTQ community to build capacity among public and private service providers for greater cultural competency. An example of such a proposal is the An Act Relative to LGBT Awareness Training for Aging Services Provider, which would support development of a training program for the delivery of accessible and appropriate services to LGBTQ older adults and their caregivers. This act would prevent older LGBTQ residents from any need to hide their identity and receive care that is relevant and respectful.

  • Reverse exclusionary practices in zoning, permitting, real estate sales, and mortgage lending.

    Massachusetts continues to struggle with high levels of racial, ethnic and income segregation, a legacy of many years of public and private actions. We must recognize that restrictive local zoning and permitting decisions are a contributing factor to this persistent segregation, often limiting the development of both deed-restricted and market rate affordable units, especially for families with children. Real estate and finance practices often have the additional impact of making it difficult for low-income households and people of color to purchase homes, even when they could otherwise qualify to do so. Massachusetts must clarify that such practices are a violation of state law, and must take stronger steps to advance fair housing throughout the state.


Create a process that allows non-citizen immigrants to vote in municipal elections

Across the country, several municipalities or counties have allowed non-citizen residents to vote in municipal elections, under the theory that all residents should be involved in municipal service delivery. Historically, until 1926, 40 states allowed non-citizens to vote in municipal and state elections, a policy that was reversed as nativist sentiments rose in the United States. There is no federal law that makes it illegal for cities and towns to give non-citizens the right to vote, and currently, a number of cities in Maryland as well as the cities of Chicago and San Francisco provide options for non-citizen residents to participate in municipal elections.