A new push is underway in Massachusetts to develop strip malls into housing

A local planning organization says it might have a partial solution to the state's housing crisis

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The housing crisis is one the whole nation is facing, and Massachusetts is no exception.

But a local planning organization says it might have a partial solution to this problem -- strip malls.



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“There is no one silver bullet to solving this housing crisis," said Chris Kuschel, principal planner at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

According to a new study co-authored by Kuschel, there are more than 3,000 strip malls in the greater Boston area that could help ease the state's housing crisis.

"They’re often underutilized by various measures, they’re often poor areas for the environment, with a lot of asphalt everywhere," he said. "So there is a lot of opportunity for redevelopment.”

One plaza that’s already been transformed is the Woburn Mall into the new Woburn Village. It was redeveloped in 2019.

It has stores, restaurants and an apartment complex with more than 320 apartments, 25% of which are affordable housing.

“I think it’s a great idea to get these commercial areas and convert them to affordable housing," said housing rights advocate Gabriela Cartagena of City Life/Vida Urbana. But she wants action from the state on affordable housing as well.

“The government's definition of affordable housing is for people earning an average of $70,000 to $100,000 a year, right? And what essential worker do you know that makes an income of $100,000 a year?”

The study estimates that to alleviate the housing crisis, eastern Massachusetts would need 140,000 new multifamily housing units by 2030.

“What we found is if you took the top 10% of sites in each community, you would get around 125,000 units," Kuschel said.

He said more than 25,000 affordable housing units could be created with these projects.

Many communities like Framingham and Hanover are redeveloping their malls to add housing, something Kuschel said can eventually generate hundreds of millions of dollars in extra tax revenue for these communities.

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