With a growing economy and population in the Greater Boston area, developers have been planning to construct more residential and commercial buildings every year, with units both for rent and for sale, according to building permit data from five counties: Suffolk, Middlesex, Plymouth, Essex, and Norfolk.

After the Great Recession, the number of new building permits issued in Greater Boston peaked in 2015. In that year, building departments in the five counties approved permits for about13,900 units. (See figure 1) Prior to that, from 2005 to 2009, the number of permitting dropped shapely because of the Great Recession. Since then, the number has risen year over year from 2012 to 2016, with a slight dip from 2010 to 2011.

The number of permits granted in 2016 represented a decrease of 1,600 units from the year before, bringing the total number of permits granted to almost matching 2006 figures. Moreover, according to the estimated number of permits, the market will continue to decrease from 2017-2018. If this estimation is correct, it could signal another housing market collapse.

Figure 1:https://public.tableau.com/profile/publish/2001-2016HousingPermitsinGreaterBoston/Sheet1#!/publish-confirm


During the construction boom from 2011 to 2015 in Greater Boston, buildings with at least five units were the most popular structures. Larger-occupancy housing has generally been more popular than single-family homes and the buildings with two to four units. (see figure 2)

Figure 2:https://public.tableau.com/profile/publish/2001-2016HousingPermitsinGreaterBoston/Sheet3#!/publish-confirm


Considering the issue of my limited data from which to draw, my animated map focuses on both housing, commercial, and mixed-use building permits in Boston from 2010 to 2016. Figure 3a-3c represents the trend of the increasing number of new building permits granted from 2010 to 2016 in the city.

The number of applications for permits has risen sharply since 2014. According to the 2015 Boston housing report, this rise in applications is attributable to the city administration’s commitment to reducing the wait time between applying and granting permits. The department said that as of late 2014, the average wait time for a single-family housing permit to be reviewed was 14 months. Now, that wait time is only about 2.5 months. And for multi-unit buildings, the wait time decreased from an average of 14 months in 2014 to just four months now. The housing department went on to say that they expect a continued rise in permits thanks to the streamlined application process.

Animated map

Figure 3a:

   Figure 3b:

Figure 3b:Figure 3c:

Figure 4 shows the distribution of different occupancy types in Boston from 2010 to 2016. We can see from the data that one to two-family homes are the most popular size structures that developers want to build. This contrasts with the data from the Great Boston region, where buildings with five units or more are the most popular permit application.I was surprised by that one to two-family homes made up the most popular building permit requested in Boston. Initially, my expectation was that multiple occupancy buildings would be the most popular type.

Figure 4:

To sum up the data, I found that after the Great Recession, both in Boston and in the Greater Boston region, there was a construction boom from 2011 to 2015, though the number in 2016 dropped slightly. Moreover, one to two-unit housing projects led permit applications in Boston, while projects with at least five units have been more popular in the Greater Boston region.

Current problems: Without the documentation in this dataset from the website of Boston.gov, it’s very hard to understand some the odd abbreviations in the legend. Despite repeated attempts to contact the department both by phone and email, I could not reach a human. I need to find out how this dataset was created and stored, and find some documentation to explain abbreviations.

Moreover, there are certainly a few remaining questions about how housing department employees recorded the occupancy type. For instance, as the figure shows above, the housing department listed permits as 1-4 FAM and 1-7 FAM.