State housing prices rise as Hill mulls reforms

BOSTON — As Beacon Hill grapples with the intricacies of legislation to boost housing production, affordability appears to be drifting further out of reach for many as rising home and condo prices in Massachusetts set up for what could be another banner year.

The median sale price for a single-family home was $350,000 and the median condo sale price was $345,000, both record highs for January, the Warren Group reported. The increases are "a good indicator that 2018 could be another record-setting year," Warren Group CEO Tim Warren said in a statement.

Rising prices have not reached levels that would cause demand to begin drying up. There were 3,600 single-family home sales in the first month of 2018, nearly equal to the sales volume in January 2017, and there were 1,444 condos sold, a 1.6 percent decline, according to The Warren Group.

At $365,000, the median home sale price for 2017 was up 5.5 percent last year, the largest gain in four years and surpassing the previous record of $355,000 set in 2005. In 2017, there were 60,695 home sales, down 0.2 percent from 60,797 in 2016, The Warren Group reported last month, but up from 54,587 in 2015.

As inventory concerns continue to loom ahead of the spring buying and selling season, bills aimed at boosting the state's housing supply and creating more housing opportunities for people with varying incomes remain pending on Beacon Hill.

Senate President Harriette Chandler said Tuesday the Senate is poised to act on a major housing bill, but is waiting for the House to make the first move.

"One of our top priorities, and certainly one of my top priorities, is a comprehensive housing bill that would lower housing costs overall, allow municipalities to require affordable housing as part of every single housing development, and provide stronger tools to prevent housing discrimination," Chandler told anti-homelessness advocates who gathered at the Statehouse on Tuesday.

Asked after the event about when the Senate would take up a housing bill, Chandler said, "We're ready now."

"The House is writing their bill," she told the News Service. "As soon as they're done, we're ready. We're ready to go."


In June 2016, the Senate voted 23-15 to pass a sweeping zoning reform bill that its supporters described as an effort to alleviate the state's housing crunch. The bill was never taken up by the House.

Leaders of the Democrat-controlled Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker agree that housing affordability represents a hurdle for many in Massachusetts, and an impediment to economic growth, but so far have been unable to find common ground on policy changes and get momentum behind a major policy bill.

During a webinar on Wednesday, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce officials said more housing is needed to keep pace with population growth and to enable the region to continue its economic growth.

Nearly half of all renters in the Boston metropolitan region are "cost burdened" — spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs — compared to 28 percent of owners, according to chamber officials. And while mortgage payments in this region are lower than in than some peer cities, the area "leads the way with high taxes, utilities, insurance rates and fees."

The average age of a first-time homebuyer is 32, according to the chamber, and is projected to keep rising largely due to costs that make it difficult to save for a downpayment. Those costs include increased rents associated with living in desirable locations, strict borrowing regulations put in place after the subprime mortgage crisis, and rising student debt. Chamber officials said the average debt for graduates of Massachusetts colleges is nearly $32,000.

One of the biggest of many housing policy decisions facing lawmakers is whether to go along with Gov. Baker's proposal to reduce the threshold that is required for changes to local zoning bylaws to a majority of the local governing authority, down from the current two thirds. Critics of the status quo say the threshold too often is insurmountable, making it virtually impossible to change local rules and increase production of mixed-use, multi-family and starter homes.


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