There’s no question—Boston is growing rapidly, and it’s not about to slow down. As Mayor Marty Walsh plans to build 53,000 new housing units by 2030, Suffolk University’s Building Boston 2030 Forum examined how increased density could impact the city.
The panel, moderated by New England Cable News Business Editor Peter Howe, discussed the pros and cons of loosening zoning regulations and providing financial incentives that could lead to more residential buildings in the city’s neighborhoods, especially near public transportation.
Sheila Dillon, director of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development, noted that 91,000 new residents are expected to move to Boston by 2030. But currently, most housing developments are designed for either low-income or high-income residents.
“Out of the 10,000 new units that have been built downtown since 2010, 76 percent are high-end units,” Dillon said.
Currently, there aren’t affordable housing options for the middle-class and young professionals, said Paul McMorrow, associate editor, CommonWealth Magazine.
According to Dillon, financial and tax incentives may help encourage the construction of moderately priced housing units and make some development projects more financially feasible. Kenan Bigby, vice president of Trinity Financial, also recommended an additional incentive—a “dedicated fund” to produce middle-income and workforce housing.
To increase sustainable density, Bigby said development efforts should be focused on reusing existing buildings that are vacant. Taking advantage of current resources may help to drive down costs, he said.
All of the speakers emphasized the importance of developing new housing close to the subway and commuter rail. Fewer and fewer people are driving cars—they want to be able to walk to work or take public transportation, Dillon said, adding that there is 12 million square feet of city- and state-owned land near good transit.
But simply being close to the public transportation may not be enough. Frederick Kramer, president of ADD Inc., noted that Boston’s infrastructure is old, and developers need to take funding and planning for infrastructure more seriously. “Infrastructure improvements are mission-critical,” he said.
As density increases, there is also a greater need for green spaces, Kramer said. Open spaces, like the Greenway and Post Office Square are necessary to make densely populated areas attractive and livable. “The two are inexplicably linked,” he said.
The speakers agreed that one of the biggest challenges ahead is overcoming antiquated zoning regulations. “We absolutely have to rethink zoning. The question is, how do we do it,” McMorrow said.
The October 21 panel was part of a series of public forums on Boston development and co-hosted by Suffolk’s Center for Real Estate and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. The next event, to be held on February 10, will focus on development opportunities at Suffolk Downs. If you have an idea, share it with #SDideas.