For several years, MACDC has engaged with its Members in Greater Boston through its Suburban Housing Caucus. Greater Boston region needs a dramatic increase in housing production to meet the existing and growing demand for housing, in particular rental housing. According to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), the region needs 435,000 new housing units, mostly multifamily, by 2040. Unfortunately, housing development in suburban communities is particularly challenging for a number of reasons, including the high cost of development, restrictive local zoning, opposition by local residents and/or local government, limited subsidy resources for affordable housing, and lack of infrastructure.
While many MACDC Members have a pipeline of projects in Greater Boston, moving these projects forward takes a very long time and is very expensive, especially for smaller nonprofits without deep financial pockets. At the moment, individual organizations are often forced to tackle these challenges in isolation from one another and without the benefit of collective learning, knowledge, and power. This, in turn, makes it hard to advance meaningful systems and policy changes that might improve the situation.
In 2020, we expanded the Caucus to include MACDC Members in small towns and reconstituted the Caucus as the Suburban and Small Town Housing Caucus. While the Greater Boston area’s real estate market is unique, many of the housing challenges in suburban communities are also found in small towns, including local opposition, limited local capacity, and lack of infrastructure.
To address these issues, MACDC’s Suburban and Small Town Housing Caucus is made up of members who want to work together to accelerate housing development in suburban and small towns across the Commonwealth. The purpose of the Caucus is to accelerate the development of homes that people with low- and middle-incomes can afford in these suburbs and small towns. We see the Caucus as a platform for collective action among sister organizations facilitated by MACDC. It is not a traditional “program” in which MACDC provides services to its members.
- Building Local Support – We need to cultivate a strong, vocal, and active base of local advocates for affordable housing. Our members already labor to build this support in the communities where they work. Their capacity to do this, however, can vary based on the size of the organization, whether they employ organizers, the financial resources available, and the number of different municipalities in which they are working (some groups are focused on one place while others are spread across many cities and towns). We believe that the Caucus can help advance these efforts by providing peer to peer support and learning and the development of shared tools and resources.
- Communications – We heard repeatedly from our members about the importance of improving our communications. The Caucus can do this through peer-to-peer learning, the development of tools and resources (e.g. template fact sheets, web content, social media campaigns, etc.), conducting shared research, potentially hiring professional assistance (i.e. a shared purchase of a P.R. firm) to provide additional capacity for creation and implementation of a campaign, and other ways determined by the group.
- Resources – Clearly, to expand and accelerate this work will require financial resources. While every nonprofit is responsible for raising its own money, the Caucus can work to create and expand opportunities for both public and private dollars. The Caucus successfully advocated for housing subsidy dollars that work effectively in suburban and small-town markets, such as the Community Scale Housing Initiative. The Caucus will be a voice within both MACDC and the larger housing sector to ensure that all types of communities are taken into consideration as programs are developed and designed. We might also be able to collectively pursue private sources, leveraging the Community Investment Tax Credit.
- Policy – Suburban and small town housing development is highly dependent on both local and state policy. The Caucus will provide a venue for MACDC members to learn from each other and outside experts about best practices in local policy and to potentially support each other on local advocacy. The Caucus can also coordinate local advocacy efforts with other players such as the Livable Streets Alliance, Citizens Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA), and Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), so these efforts can have greater impact. This will be essential if Housing Choice legislation is passed that will support local campaigns to change exclusionary zoning ordinances and practices. The Caucus can also tackle state policy issues that heavily impact suburban communities and small towns, such as the Community Preservation Act, zoning reform, the Community Scale Housing Initiative, and others. Through our leadership role in the HERO Coalition, our campaign seeks to increase the deeds excise tax to fund housing and climate investments. We will bring the policy issues raised to MACDC’s Policy Committee, and if appropriate, to the MACDC Board.
- Partnerships – MACDC and its members are not the only organizations working on the issue of suburban housing development. Many others are also working actively in this space. These groups include the Livable Streets Alliance, MAPC, CHAPA, the Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP), Boston LISC, the Boston Foundation, the Alliance for Business Leadership, and others. There are also private consultants, universities, and other experts that are potentially available to help us. At a minimum, the Caucus will provide an efficient and organized mechanism for MACDC and its members to engage with these other players and align efforts. Additionally, we believe the Caucus can help influence what these organizations do and how they do it. Ideally, we can establish formal and informal agreements with some of them to provide meaningful technical assistance and support to the Caucus and to individual Caucus members.
- Collaborations Among Caucus Members: On the Cape, two MACDC Members collaborated on the formation of the Cape Community Housing Partnership. This initiative, which provides education to municipal officials and to local advocates, as well as public education, can serve as a model. MACDC has engaged CDCs on the South Shore and the North Shore in preliminary discussions about potentially replicating this model.
- Asian CDC
- B’nai B’rith Housing
- Brookline Improvement Coalition
- CDC of South Berkshire
- Community Development Partnership
- Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority
- Harborlight Community Partners
- Hilltown CDC
- Housing Assistance Corporation
- Housing Corporation of Arlington
- Housing Nantucket
- Island Housing Trust
- Metro West Collaborative Development
- NeighborWorks Housing Solutions
- NewVue Communities
- North Shore CDC
- Somerville Community Corporation
- South Middlesex Opportunity Council, Inc.
- Valley CDC
- Way Finders
- Women's Institute