The 21st century has brought more choices to people looking for apartments and condos just outside Boston or spacious homes in the Berkshires, but the construction spurt hasn’t been so great in most of the bedroom communities near I-495. Overall, the number of permits for new homes in Massachusetts jumped by 25 percent between 2000 and 2004 (see State of the States, “Flat Growth,” CW, Growth and Development Extra), but that increase was not evenly distributed. At one extreme, the number of permits in Dedham was 14 times greater in 2004 (316) than in 2000 (22); and in Malden the number was 13 times greater (498 new homes, up from 37). Almost all of this growth was the result of apartment complexes: Detached single-family homes accounted for less than 6 percent of the permits in each community. Still, there were scattered communities where total permits almost doubled and almost all of them went to single-family homes, including the exurbs of Northbridge and Salisbury and the older cities of Fitchburg and Lowell—as well as many far western towns.

The number of permits in Boston increased by 90 percent, from 567 to 1,079, with less than one-tenth for single-family homes. That doesn’t mean our largest city was getting much larger, however. Even in 2004, there were 527 existing residents for every new home, a ratio far higher than that of most communities in the state. Chilmark, on Martha’s Vineyard, takes the prize for increasing its housing stock at the fastest rate in proportion to its existing population: 51 new homes, all single-family, were permitted in 2004 for a community of only 934 people. That’s a mere 18 current residents per new home. And most of Cape Cod and southeastern Massachusetts, despite drops or small increases in the actual number of housing permits, nevertheless continued to rank high in new homes per capita during 2004.

Sources: 2004 Building Permits, US Census Bureau (