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Land-Use Regulations Undermine Population Growth in Massachusetts

Samuel Staley
January 25, 2011, 8:55am

Harvard economsts Ed Glaeser has a nice, pithy commentary at the Boston.com (January 23, 2011) arguing that land-use regulations are directly responsible for slow population growth in Massachusetts. In "If You Build It, They Will Come," Glaeser writes:

"To really understand the conundrum of a state like Massachusetts – with its high incomes and low population growth – we must factor in our lack of housing. An area’s growth is almost perfectly correlated with the increase in the number of homes. If you don’t build, you don’t grow, and our state just doesn’t build.

"The issue isn’t lack of demand for new housing, but the vast number of local regulations that deter it. More than half the land in Greater Boston has a minimum lot size of greater than an acre. For years, communities have added more anti-growth rules, such as bans on large developments. In 2005 alone, three states each permitted more housing than Massachusetts did over the entire decade.

"So when you wonder why more people aren’t moving to Massachusetts, don’t blame the weather. That explanation lets us off the hook too easily. Instead, think about how difficult it would be to add a couple hundred homes in your town and recognize that the Bay State stagnates by design. While our anti-change rules may keep our communities looking the way we like them, they also mean that we do a worse job of providing affordable housing than deep red states, such as Texas. This country is being shaped by local land-use rules, and around here, those regulations have now resulted in Massachusetts losing a seat in the House of Representatives."


Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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