Report ranks Boston 35th in the nation for building housing

There are only 44 affordable and available rental homes constructed for every 100 extremely low-renter households in Massachusetts.

The Boston skyline as seen from near the Harvard Bridge. Home sellers in metro Boston took in big profits in 2022.
Experts attribute the lack of affordable housing in the region to an emphasis on building housing for buyers who want single-family homes and luxury condos. Carlin Stiehl/The Boston Globe

Boston’s local economy is growing faster than the region is building housing — and low-income residents are getting hit hardest when it comes to affordable homes.

Chris Salviati, a senior economist at Apartment List, said cities across the United States vary significantly in the amount of housing they’re building, but Boston is near the bottom of the list.

“Boston is definitely one that’s doing a particularly bad job of building new housing,” Salviati said. “Luxury inventory ends up being the primary type of housing that’s constructed, which isn’t serving folks at the middle and end of the income distribution.”


In an Apartment List report, metro Boston ranked 35th out of the nation’s 50 largest metros in apartments and single-family homes permitted per capita, according to census data. The region permitted 10,611 new apartments and 3,998 new single-family homes last year, according to Apartment List.

The Globe has reported that the city of Boston itself approved less new housing in 2022 than it has “in any year since 2015” and that 2023 could be even slower. However, the report goes on: “City data show 3,714 new units were actually produced in the city in 2022, according to the Mayor’s Office of Housing, up from 3,393 in 2021 and 3,272 in 2020.”

The National Low Income Housing Commission’s “Gap Report” estimated that there is a 7.3-million-unit shortage in affordable rental housing across the country. In Massachusetts, the report found just 44 affordable and available rental homes per 100 extremely low-income renter households.

Karina Oliver-Milchman, who serves as chief of neighborhood and housing development at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said the lack of accessible, affordable homes in Greater Boston is due to the region’s prioritization of single-family housing.

“We’ve seen a patchwork approach to creating housing opportunities over the past several decades,” Oliver-Milchman said. “It’s not just a regulatory issue, it’s also a cultural issue. There’s a lot of opposition to the idea of multifamily housing and rental housing in Greater Boston.”


Additionally, Salviati said, Boston’s strong local economy attracts residents and creates demand for luxury housing — which is why developers continue to build it. But Boston has gone decades without building enough homes to serve its growing number of residents, he said.

This “continual undersupply” of affordable housing contributes to growing home prices and a shortage of starter homes, both of which restrict prospective homeowners to renting. 

The effects of this crisis are felt not only in Boston. Many metro renters have opted to commute into the city from more affordable cities like Providence, Salviati said.

These renters’ higher budgets ratchet up rprices wherever they move, often pricing low- or middle-income residents out of the area altogether, Oliver-Milchman said.

In Providence, for example, 60% of extremely low-income renting households spend more than half their income on housing and are at risk of homelessness, as reported in the Globe. Salviati said this dynamic is present in many coastal cities, including New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

One way to address this issue is to “build our way out,” by constructing more affordable housing, Oliver-Milchman said. But this strategy isn’t as simple as adding more homes to the market.


“Production is not going to ramp up at the pace at which we need it to,” Oliver-Milchman said. “We’re not going to be able to build our way out of the affordability crisis without requiring deed-restricted affordability.”

Deed restrictions regulate the long-term price of a home while allowing people to build wealth through homeownership, according to, a website that provides resources for housing affordability on a local level.

Deed-restricted affordability allows people with low- or middle-incomes to become homeowners, but protects future generations of low- or middle-income families from price appreciation.

Salviati pinpointed Boston’s zoning laws as another issue in the affordability crisis. He emphasized the importance of zoning reform in diversifying available housing.

For example, he said, it’s difficult to build anything other than a single-family home in the suburbs, but duplexes, triplexes, and large apartment buildings would all provide more financially-accessible housing.

Oliver-Milchman noted Section 3A of Chapter 40A, which requires multifamily zoning in MBTA communities — many of which are the suburbs that often struggle to permit multifamily builds.

“Section 3A basically states that if a community has MBTA service, they have to build multifamily housing developments by right in a certain area of the community … and it needs to meet certain minimum capacities,” she explained.

She added that this legislation will “spark profound change” in the accessibility of affordable housing and multifamily homes.


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