THE BOSTON GLOBE – Anyone who gets proposed to 18 or 20 times in six months must be doing something right.
Proposals, of the housing development kind, have been flowing into the city of Marlborough at just that rate this year. So, the city decided to slow things down and take (housing) stock.
With a six-month moratorium on special permits set to expire Wednesday, city councilors are digging into a new report on the city’s housing needs.
“People [are] standing at the door waiting to do projects,” Mayor Arthur Vigeant said, mentioning the 18 to 20 he’s heard. He estimated that there would be as many as 3,000 new units if all those move forward, something he said isn’t likely.
But the question still stands: How much housing does Marlborough really need?
A study commissioned by the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation and released this summer offered some new details about the state of housing in the city and the ways this Metro West crossroads has bounced back from the losses of the recession.
RKG Associates, Inc., which conducted the study, found that demand for housing keeps increasing in the city. Since 2000, the median home value has risen 81 percent and rents are also on the rise. Meanwhile, Marlborough’s population is projected to exceed 41,000 by the end of the decade.
According to a local broker and owner of Fireside Real Estate, Caroline Hanlon, “there has been a huge uptick” in real estate activity since the recession. At the end of July, she said, houses were on the market an average of 29 days to offer.
“It’s exciting to be part of [a] local renaissance,” she said. “This is long overdue.”
The report said that demand is high enough to push a brisk pace of development without oversaturating the market. Since 1990, Marlborough has been at a clip of about 145 new units every year, and that got a thumbs-up for the near future from RKG.
The sunny outlook has a lot to do with jobs.
Marlborough saw some hard times during the recession, losing almost 2,500 jobs and two major employers, Fidelity Investments and Hewlett-Packard. Office park vacancies spiked.
But by 2015, the city had almost 600 more jobs than it did before the recession hit, according to this report. Quest Diagnostics, GE Healthcare, and the TJX Cos. had moved in to fill the gaps. And a year ago, Whole Foods decided to bring its regional headquarters there from Cambridge.
Economic gains in the city have not been even, however, the study showed. Households at the high end — making over $150,000 — have seen the largest gains, up 35 percent from 2010 to 2016. Other income brackets rose less than 5 percent.
The study, citing data from Alteryx, a third-party socioeconomic data vendor, predicts that “disproportionate growth for the wealthiest households will accelerate in the near future.”
And those trends are being reflected in the housing stock.
The number of rental units that cost less than $1,000 a month decreased from more than half of the market to just 35 percent since 2010. None of the four apartment complexes built since 2000 offer market rents less than $1,500. And in the same period, almost all new ownership units — including condos and houses — cost over $300,000. In large part due to demand, prices are going up.
According to Hanlon, who raised three children in the city “it is difficult to find housing for people in certain price ranges.” She pointed to recent college graduates turning away because “the barrier to entry has risen.”
City Councilor Joseph Delano, who is the chairman of the Urban Affairs Committee, acknowledged the challenges of affordable housing.
“No one has the right mix of housing that they need anywhere,” he said. “It’s a hard one.”
He explained that Marlborough is still more affordable than many of the surrounding towns — something supported by the data in the report — and said the City Council will be looking at the study to craft a comprehensive plan.
The study recommends filling in the downtown with mixed-use developments, matching the four-story scale of some older buildings. It suggested cottage-sized new houses to add to the diversity of options.
RKG also advocated putting apartments and amenities in the office parks, replacing the parking lot landscapes of yore with village-style clusters.
Obviously, Marlborough is not afraid of a little development. The Apex Center, a massive complex with two hotels, six restaurants, retail, bowling, and offices, is on track to open in October. An ice arena will also be completed by the end of the year.
But a fuller downtown, less parking, and more apartments, stores, and entertainment all sound a little urban for a suburban community, right?
Delano disagrees. “The old saying ‘Marlborough is a country kind of city’ still applies,” he said.
This article by Lucas Phillips originally appeared here.