New analysis explores every city and suburb in the Boston region to reveal the tools of multi-family housing obstruction—sometimes it takes more than zoning to block apartments from getting built.

2 minute read

June 4, 2019, 6:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Back Bay

There are many ways to ensure this kind of community doesn't happen again. | Johnny Habell / Shutterstock

"Thanks to a thicket of zoning rules, the suburban communities of Greater Boston have lots of ways to make it difficult to build apartments and other multifamily housing that many of their residents don’t want," writes Tim Logan.

That thicket has become much more defined, thanks to new research by a coalition of major housing industry and advocacy groups that provides a comprehensive review of zoning laws in Eastern Massachusetts. To complete the "The State of Zoning for Multi-Family Housing in Greater Boston" report, researcher Amy Dain examined the zoning codes and housing plans of 100 Eastern Massachusetts municipalities.

In Dain's own words, quoted in the article, the report attempts to define "the aggregate, de facto plan for building multifamily housing across Greater Boston." To summarize the findings of the report, Dain uses the phrase "paper wall" to describe the regulations, like lot size requirements, parking minimums, age restrictions — that block multifamily housing even in places where zoning allows for it.

Logan provides an example of how extra regulations can sometimes supersede the nominal intentions of zoning in the Boston area:

The Town of Dover, for instance, technically allows apartment buildings but requires that 25 percent of units in a new building be affordable, that 40 percent be set aside for senior citizens, and that the project contain no more than four units per acre — a density more common to single-family homes with yards. No project has ever been permitted in Dover under those rules, Dain noted.

According to Logan, one prescription suggested in the report is a more regional approach to planning.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019 in The Boston Globe

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