Skip to content

Survey finds strong support for affordable housing development among Brookline residents

The Coolidge Corner T stop in Brookline. Photo by Zoe Zekos
May 13, 2024  Updated May 14, 2024 at 5:01 p.m.

Most respondents to a town wide survey say it’s becoming more difficult to afford living in Brookline and support increasing taxes to build affordable housing.

Results from the survey sponsored by Brookline for Racial Justice and Equity (BRJE) and conducted by MassInc Polling found that a majority of the respondents support housing development in response to the town’s affordability crisis. Forty-four percent of respondents identified housing as the most important issue currently facing Brookline.

“We’ve got lawn signs that say everybody is welcome here, but it’s increasingly becoming more and more difficult for everyone,” said Raul Fernandez, the executive director of BRJE and a former Select Board member. “That’s squeezing out Black residents, refugees and immigrants. I don’t think there are many people out there that will deny the fact that Brookline is becoming less and less affordable.”

The survey polled 508 people by mail, online, and via telephone interviews, and the results were “weighted by race, age and gender, education, and geography to reflect known and estimated population parameters for the adult population of Brookline,” according to MassInc.

Support Brookline.News

Hi, this is Sam Mintz, the editor of Brookline.News. Thanks so much for reading our work and supporting us during our first year. In our next year, we want to expand our journalism to cover more of the subjects you care about, and write stories that go more in-depth into life in Brookline. But to do that, we need your help. Please consider making a tax deductible donation this spring to help us grow.

According to the survey, respondents believe that longtime residents, higher income households, homeowners, and older residents have the most influence in local politics. Most respondents see racism as at least a somewhat serious problem.

Sixty-three percent of the survey’s respondents somewhat or strongly support rent control, with 89% of Black and Latino residents and 80% of lower income households supporting the measure. Town Meeting recently passed a measure asking the state to let Brookline implement rent stabilization, but the state legislature has yet to act.

On Monday evening, BRJE hosted a virtual event with around 70 people to debrief and discuss the results of the survey with local experts in education, housing, and public health. They discussed the impacts of housing inaccessibility and a lack of childcare on life in Brookline, particularly on residents of color.

Moving forward, Fernandez said the results of the survey should be used to boost engagement from and representation for underrepresented groups in government, private industry, and policy in Brookline.

Affordable housing and childcare at the forefront

When asked which initiatives would be most helpful in boosting economic mobility, 65% of respondents said affordable housing and 35% said childcare.

J. Malcolm Cawthorne, who serves as the METCO director for the Public Schools of Brookline, pointed out the “vicious cycle” that occurs when cost of living is high and childcare is inaccessible.

“To stay here, multiple caregivers have to work and bring home income, which means they have to pay for childcare,” Cawthorne said. “If child care and housing are highly inflated, it’s almost impossible to do both.”

The majority of respondents supported more development of affordable housing, housing for people with low-wage jobs and mixed income housing. Forty-three percent of respondents said they supported building high-density housing.  Black and Latino residents most strongly supported the development of each type of housing, according to the survey.

“Housing has been a top concern for residents statewide for some time, so it’s not surprising that Brookline residents are worried about it,” said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group. “What’s interesting about this survey is, unlike other wealthy towns that have rejected new housing, Brookline residents seem to want to do their part.”

On the panel, Cawthorne pointed out that people often advocate for building more homes without considering what types of homes are being built and how new projects might perpetuate inequality.

“We can keep building,” Cawthorne said. “It doesn’t matter if what you build values at the median house range. If you built it and it’s going to cost $1.7 million, you know that by doing it you’re outpricing most African American and Latiné families.”

Racial inequality in Brookline

When asked about racial inequities in Brookline, 70% of respondents identified housing as a top racial inequity, while 58% of respondents said childcare was most significant. Women and residents of color were more likely to identify racism as a problem in Brookline.

Of the survey’s respondents, 67% of respondents supported shifting resources from other programs to build affordable housing, 63% supported shifting resources to address food insecurity, and 59% supported shifting resources to increase childcare options. At least 50% of respondents supported raising taxes for these three priorities, with Black and Latino residents showing more support than white and Asian American Pacific Islander respondents.

“[People of color] are leading the way, saying ‘yes, we need to be shifting resources, we need to be increasing taxes,’” Fernandez said. “The folks of color that are represented in this survey are people who have found a way, at least for now, to live in Brookline. Not represented in this survey are all the people who could be living in Brookline if we were to address these issues more meaningfully.”

Chris Chanyasulkit, a former Town Meeting member and former president of the American Public Health Association, said the increasing cost of living in Brookline is evident, particularly in schools — and is not getting better.

“I don’t know of one school or PTO that isn’t constantly in a fundraiser,” Chanyasulkit said. “It’s really hard, and in some ways it’s great that our community tries to come together as much as we can, but it’s time for the system to also help, because the system created these issues.”

While she recognized it will be difficult, Chanyasulkit said she feels optimistic about Brookline’s ability to make change as a collective.

“I’m really optimistic about what we can do in Brookline because the survey results show all of this support,” she said. “We can do these hard things. We just need to figure out a way to get out of our way about what I or you are going to lose, and to think about our wins as a community.”