What the Dentists’ Office Taught Me About Affordable Housing

Dentists’ offices are great places to pick up inspirational quotes. You can’t go in for a teeth cleaning without learning from a stunning mountain top view that “difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations,” or being taught by a sunset that “you learn more from failure than from success.” And so you can blame my recent six-month check up for the fact that my first reaction to the news that Gov. Charlie Baker announced that Massachusetts will invest $100M from housing subsidy funds and state/federal tax credits in affordable housing projects across the commonwealth was “celebrate what you’ve accomplished, but raise the bar a little higher each time you succeed.” Thank you, soccer legend Mia Hamm.

$100 million for housing in Massachusetts is truly cause for celebration. That money will support roughly 1,700 rental units that are designated as “affordable.” It’s no secret that housing in this state — especially in Greater Boston — is expensive. Just this summer Realtor.com listed the Boston area as the third hottest real estate market in the country. That’s great news for developers, but means it is hard for working families to find places to live within a reasonable distance of the city. Making 1,700 dents in that problem deserves a hearty round of applause.

After we’ve finished clapping, we have to demand more — and the loudest calls for additional affordable and workforce housing should come from the business community. The Massachusetts housing crunch is nearing the point of crisis for our economy. 72% of companies surveyed in Northeastern University and Massachusetts Housing Partnership’s April 2017 report on “Assessing Affordable Housing Availability and its Effects on Employers’ Ability to Recruit and Retain Employees in Greater Boston” have found that it is difficult to recruit and/or retain talent due to the high cost of housing. Close to home, an Alliance for Business Leadership member recently reported that a healthcare company successfully recruited several high level executives from out of state, including their COO and Vice President of Finance, but those top wage earners now live — and spend — in New Hampshire because even with their senior level salaries they could not make the high cost of housing in the Commonwealth work for them and their families. When the talent Massachusetts needs to keep our economy thriving can’t afford to live here, businesses across all sectors will suffer.

So while news of an additional $100 million going to affordable housing is very welcome, it’s time to raise the bar. At the Alliance for Business Leadership, we’re educating and rallying business leaders to do just that. Next month we’ll kick off our four-part business leaders’ learning project about workforce housing in Massachusetts. This series will give business leaders from outside of the housing industry an in-depth look at the past, present, and future of housing in the commonwealth, and what it means for business and for the economy. We’re empowering business leaders to be effective advocates on this vital issue, so that they can call for a higher bar.

Another dentists’ office favorite is that “if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” Meeting the workforce and affordable housing needs of Massachusetts will no doubt be a challenge, but tackling that challenge is the only way to create the change our economy needs in order to succeed.

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