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Inclusionary Housing Bylaws

While 80% of Massachusetts cities and towns voted last November to save 40B, it is clear from my experience that most suburban communities don’t like it and would rather have developers use their own inclusionary bylaws to create affordable housing. Having researched many of these bylaws, I have to conclude that the economic realities of developing mixed income housing has been ignored in drafting these bylaws. In order to stimulate or induce affordable housing development in lieu of any “as-of-right” development options, there needs to be an economic or financial incentive, yet most inclusionary bylaws totally fail in this regard. The Governor’s “Smart Growth Tool Kit” has developed a model inclusionary bylaw which allows 2 additional market rate units to be built for every affordable unit required. This makes sense to me as the economic loss of creating an additional affordable unit can only be offset by adding 2 more market units (in some communities with lower land values and lower market prices, a 1-for-1 ratio might work). I don’t know any suburban bylaws which allow this level of density bonus. Without viable incentives, it is not surprising that so few affordable units have been produced statewide using inclusionary bylaws in the past 10-15 years.

Why are these bylaws weak?? DENSITY rears its ugly head again; the suburbs want single family homes on decent sized lots; sure, you can cluster, they say,  but only by providing the same number of units as allowed by right. It doesn’t work…

We know, based on the MIT study of a few years ago, that the average vacant lot in the Boston suburbs is zoned for 1 acre at a minimum. With home ownership inevitably on the decline because of the tightening of mortgage requirements, we are not going to see single family homes on acre lots in high demand and whatever that demand may be, it will not address the housing needs of the majority of working households.

So, if we are going to be serious about addressing our housing needs, and  if 40B is not viewed as a “friendly” tool, then make the inclusionary bylaws work.  (And making them work for rental housing is another issue entirely)


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