McCormack Speaks

Affordable Housing – Not In My Backyard


by an anonymous McCormack Graduate School Student

apartment buildingHousing prices are a problem in Massachusetts. Every metric shows Boston and the Greater Boston area are some of the most expensive in the nation. Boston has the 3rd highest housing prices in the United States. These facts are no news to anyone who lives here.

Often our cities are disproportionately asked to be the hosts of affordable and low-income housing. The 2014 Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development’s inventory of stock backs this assertion. Old mill cities and low- income communities have provided 40B housing stock as mandated by the Commonwealth. Conversely, our small and high-income communities are slow to build affordable or low-income housing units.

And in some cases, wealthy communities are outright hostile to any affordable housing development. For instance, in Eastham (a small outer Cape Cod town), a developer proposed to build affordable housing on a 10-acre lot in response to the need of workforce housing that the Cape currently lacks. Eastham’s response was to threaten to take the land by eminent domain. The town claimed they wanted a more equal partner but it’s hard to see the move as anything but hostile. The Atlantic in 2015 covered the vocal opposition to 26 units of affordable housing in Amherst. Newton has well documented issues of preventing affordable housing coming to their city. Well-meaning town managers are often met with opposition in the MetroWest region. Wealthier towns and their citizens are reluctant to build affordable housing, pushing the burdens to other communities.

To be fair, some towns have seen a benefit as housing prices increase. Towns considered working class or “mid-tier” have seen their housing prices go up as more middle-class families buy into these communities. In return, these towns get a higher tax base helping to support their underfunded schools and to grow their municipal budgets.

But there are very real policy implications and political issues with housing and while some working-class towns have seen benefits, high housing prices have exacerbated problems for communities of color. This Boston Globe article puts it starkly, “the high cost of housing has left the region increasingly racially and economically segregated over the past five years…”

And one can’t help notice a connection between the charter school debate in Massachusetts and housing. Towards the end of the 2016 election, Question 2 advocates tried to draw a distinction between the wealthier suburbs of Boston and city schools. Question 2 recruited Governor Charlie Baker to make a case to suburban families to support Question 2 pointing out, “If you like your school, Question 2 won’t affect you.” Question 2 advocates preyed on the suburban fear of protecting their schools while ensuring residents that cities are the ones with education problems. However, if these towns were really concerned with the education of low-income students, they would be more willing to build the housing to support students to come into their districts.

As national debates on wealth, poverty, and race burn nationally, Massachusetts must be open about its shortcomings on these matters. Far too often, wealthy suburbs rely on poor communities and big cities to provide housing, lest their towns let in “undesirables.” However, as housing prices increase and inequities become more pronounced, wealthier communities must be part of the solution and contribute more low- and moderate-income housing, allowing more choice for low-income families.

The blogger studies public administration at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.  If you wish to reach this students,  , please email the author’s professor at and she will ensure the comments are shared.

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