Securing Affordable Housing in Hot Market Areas

4P+MassAPA Annual Conference

The annual meeting of the four Massachusetts planning schools and the Massachusetts American Planning Association took place on Wednesday, celebrating the career of UEP Professor Rachel Bratt. Convening in the Cabot ASEAN Auditorium, professors and experts from the 4P schools and MassAPA discussed issues of affordable housing. 

Professor Bratt, who has devoted her career to housing and community development, outlined the roles of social justice and the public sector in housing markets.  Hot housing markets don’t “just happen,” according to Bratt, who claims that they are usually the result of some public investment. A public sector that is held accountable to their populace should have some stake in encouraging racial and economic integration, especially as economists increasingly document a growing wealth gap and its detrimental effects on the economy.

Professor Bratt suggests alternative forms of social ownership, such as co-ops and land trusts, and taxing new developments for community preservation funds as possible strategies for achieving greater social integration in a hot market. She also proposes better zoning processes for affordable housing, including even the controversial idea of reinstating rent control.

The keynote address was followed by a panel of representatives from each school and MassAPA:

Kristin Haas, a Tufts UEP second-year, spoke about her field project on Section 8 rentals and the difficulty that some landlords have with agency compliance, rather than with tenants.

Dr. James Buckley DUSP/MIT spoke about his time in San Francisco and the issue of tenant eviction for AirBNB rentals or through the Ellis Act.

Dr. Christopher Herbert, Joint Center for Housing Studies/Harvard, advocated for a better subsidy system for middle income communities, as current subsidies disproportionately benefit rich homeowners.

Professor Darrel Ramsey-Musolf, LARP/UMass, highlighted the need to seek solutions in addition to taxing the rich.

MassAPA representative Judi Barret, of RKG Associates discussed the political issues around affordable housing as the “third wheel” of planning. She mentioned how developers and governments alike are hesitant to construct affordable housing on the grounds that it won’t increase potential tax revenue.