Zoning Restrictions Present Major Obstacles to Housing Affordability

Housing Affordability
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Boston has seen notable growth in recent years, with 245,000 jobs added (a 14% increase) between 2010 and 2017. But as more people have flocked to the area, "Beantown" has been unable to keep up with housing demand, increasing by only 71,600 (or 5.2%) during the same time frame. This shortfall in development is largely because of extensive restrictions on multifamily housing within the region. A new report, “The State of Zoning for Multi-Family Housing in Greater Boston,” illustrates the effects zoning restrictions can have on housing affordability in a major metropolitan area. Although there has been increased interest in mixed-use developments, zoning for multifamily housing in other areas, especially current residential districts, has been met with mixed reactions. Only one municipality, Nahant, expressly prohibits multifamily development, but even some municipalities that do allow multifamily development make it too difficult to do so. Barriers include parcel sizes, density and height restrictions, the number of bedrooms allowed per unit, age restrictions and parking requirements. This has contributed to the area’s development shortfall, and housing costs have continued to increase, with nearly half of Boston residents paying at least 30% of their income on rent. One in every 10 households is extremely rent burdened, the report states, meaning they contribute more than 50% of their income to rent. Amy Dain, who prepared the report on behalf of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, noted in her executive summary: “The expensive cost of housing not only affects individual households, but also negatively affects neighborhoods and the region. When affordable options are not available near where people work, they move farther away, resulting in more traffic congestion. The high cost of housing may also discourage companies from moving to or expanding in the region, affecting our economic competitiveness. In order to attract new businesses and retain young talent, there must be homes available and affordable to a range of income levels.” “This data confirms the difficulties facing multifamily construction," said Gary Campbell, the 2019 Multifamily Council chair and immediate past president of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, which helped fund the report. "It’s critical for our industry members, legislators and regulators to come together to build more housing for our current workforce and future generations.” Housing affordability remains a top priority for NAHB, with members such as Chairman Greg Ugalde and Steve Lawson, past chairman of the Multifamily Council, highlighting the impacts of regulations on this issue in testimonies to Congress. For more information on the Multifamily Council’s advocacy efforts, visit nahb.org/multifamilyupdates.

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