Passing an economic development bill with provisions to stimulate Gateway City TOD

The Gateway Cities Journal

Over 20,000 people came out on Father’s Day weekend to ride the long-awaited Springfield-to-New Haven commuter rail service. This outpouring of support demonstrates just how much western Massachusetts hungers for vital rail connections (a yearning that Boston-centric leaders on Beacon Hill have been somewhat hesitant to affirm). But now that Springfield’s rail infrastructure is in place, when it comes to getting the greatest economic development benefit from it, the Pioneer Valley can find common ground with eastern Massachusetts.

Dozens of MBTA trains pass through Boston-area Gateway Cities like Brockton and Lynn collecting few passengers. The eastern part of the state isn’t getting the ridership it could from MBTA commuter rail because, like Springfield, the downtown station areas in these cities have been paralyzed by decades of disinvestment.

The Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) is key to overcoming this barrier and getting the most out of transit assets in both the Boston and Springfield metro areas. Created by the Legislature in 2010, HDIP has demonstrated real promise, spurring residential development in Gateway City downtowns that hadn’t seen any private housing investment for decades. In Springfield, it was vital to SilverBrick Lofts, an apartment building just a short walk from Union Station that got a $6 million upgrade in 2016.

Unfortunately, HDIP has quickly become a victim of its own success. The small pilot program is limited to $10 million annually, which means it can enable just a few projects each year. Housing developers have learned about the program and how to make use of it, only to find out that now they must wait years for funding.

This is an enormous opportunity lost. Land within walking distance of existing Gateway City rail stations has capacity for over 100 million square feet of additional development through new construction on vacant land and rehabilitation of abandoned buildings. Taking full advantage of the land around Gateway City stations, Massachusetts could house upwards of a quarter million residents within a half-mile radius of Gateway City rail stations. This TOD would generate a dramatic increase in rail ridership, and new fare revenue to improve the financial performance of our transit agencies. These projects would also create significant new real estate value, reducing Gateway City reliance on state aid.

Even more importantly, HDIP can contribute to broad-based economic growth. The program creates housing that would otherwise not get built. As baby boomers retire and remain in their homes, economists have warned that Massachusetts will need more housing supply in order to add workers. Beacon Hill leaders are currently assembling an end-of-session economic development package. This legislation is an opportunity to increase HDIP, generating transformative private investment to leverage our underutilized public transportation infrastructure.

– Ben Forman











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