Three Prong Perspective on New Housing Development

Issues of supply, affordability, and equity all contribute to an ongoing housing crisis in Massachusetts. Among U.S. metro areas with knowledge-based industries, metro Boston ranks near the bottom in housing production and near the top on development costs. Due to the latter, production of new affordable housing units has scarcely increased over the past decade. And largely decentralized authority over land use regulations, by 351 cities and towns, does little to foster uniform housing equity standards.

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New Housing Offers Fiscal Benefits to Communities

A study by Elise Rapoza and Michael Goodman shows that new housing construction in MA does not have an adverse affect on municipal or school budgets. And when it might, state funding covers the difference. This study contradicts the often heard argument against new housing development, especially multi-family housing, because it, the argument claims, it will have a negative fiscal impact on communities.

In the aggregate, development of new housing offers net fiscal benefit to both municipalities and the state. Additional analysis validates a second study which found that increased housing production does not predict enrollment changes in Massachusetts school districts. In the new study, a distinct minority of municipalities did incur net fiscal burdens—burdens that the net new state tax proceeds associated with the development of new housing are more than sufficient to offset.

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Arlington & Exclusionary Zoning History

A report by Mass Housing Partnership’s Shelly Goehring looks at Arlington’s housing development history and policies to understand how municipal action and inaction can contribute to housing inaffordability and can limit the population diversity within a community. The report implies that it has been difficult historically for reputable housing developers to work with the regulatory structure within Arlington to get housing built.

Massachusetts has the nation’s 2nd largest gap in homeownership between households of color (31% own homes) and white households (69% own homes).

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Four Big Housing Challenges In Metro Boston

Data in a Mass Housing Partnership report shows how far behind the Boston metropolitan area has fallen in meeting the housing needs of its citizens. There are four primary categories for measuring the inadequacies: 1. Availability, 2. Affordability, 3. L0cation and Mobility and 4. Equitability. See the full report for more data and examples. Two slides are shown below.

Despite increasing population and job growth, Mass. has one of the lowest rates of housing production in the USA
Average zoning jurisdictions in Mass. arrepresent only 10,000 people. This makes it hard to achieve meaningful, broad public policy goals.
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10 Great Illegal Neighborhoods

This report shows a number of great, livable neighborhoods in communities like Lexington, Cohasset, Great Barrington, etc. where under the municipality’s “official” zoning, the neighborhoods would be illegal and could not exist. These are neighborhoods that residents enjoy for a variety of special characteristics that would have been blocked in typical zoning. Zoning can result in a too homogeneous community, excluding the serendipities of co-location in a land use development process evolving over a great many years. Can we anticipate these synergies and include them to enrichen our town’s neighborhoods?

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Will Arlington Set A Housing Goal?

After a week of good coverage on the need for more housing units in the greater Boston region, on August 2, 2019 the GLOBE carried the following editorial, mentioning the situation in Arlington.

Good news? On housing? In Massachusetts?

Yes, that’s right. Even here in the land of the $600,000 starter home, a few forward-thinking cities and towns are starting to make progress on what sometimes seems like an intractable problem: the inadequate production of new housing that has sent the cost of renting or buying in Greater Boston into the stratosphere.

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The Cost of Housing in Arlington

(This post originally appeared as a one-page handout, distributed at The State of Zoning for Multi-Family Housing in Greater Boston.)

Source: Arlington, MA 2018 Annual Report

This chart shows the assessed value of Arlington’s low density housing from 2015–2019 (assessed values generally reflect market values from two years prior). During this time, home values increased between 39% (single-family homes) and 48% (two-family homes). Most of the change comes from the increasing cost of land. As a point of comparison, the US experienced 7.7% inflation during the same period. (1)

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The State of Zoning for Multi-Family Housing in Greater Boston

(published June, 2019)


To solve the extraordinarily large deficit in housing for the greater Boston region, over 180,000 units of new housing should come on line in the next few years. This deficit is the result of a rapid expansion in in-migration due to new job creation, with no commensurate increase in housing production for the people taking those new jobs.

The report concludes that zoning is a primary culprit in restricting the development of an adequate housing supply, creating a “PAPER WALL” keeping out newcomers. The cost of this inadequate supply is a huge demand for housing which, in turn, bids up the price for available housing. The following “culprits” are considered: inadequate land area zoned for multi-family housing; low density zoning; age restrictions and bedroom restrictions; excessive parking requirements; mixed use requirements and approval processes. Alternative zoning models are suggested.

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