Unlocking the Potential of Transit Adjacent Land for Housing Affordability

A case study from the Boston region shows the power of allowing moderate density on transit adjacent residential parcels currently available only to single-family detached homes.

October 26, 2020, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Boston, Massachusetts

2p2play / Shutterstock

"[H]igh housing costs and inadequate supply are not a natural outcome of market forces; they are the result of policy choices," according to an article by Sarah Crump, Trevor Mattos, Jenny Schuetz, and Luc Schuster.

The consequences of policy choices are a disconnect between land values and land uses in the Boston region.

Land is very expensive, but the housing is mostly low-density: single-family detached homes with large yards. The Massachusetts Housing Partnership’s TODEX dataset shows that the median housing density near commuter rail stations is 2.8 homes per acre—equivalent to single-family homes on one-third acre lots. This isn’t a market outcome—it’s a sign that zoning is preventing housing markets from working.

This team of writers is presenting a new report that offers a prescription for the rising cost of housing, and resulting social ills, in Boston: loosening zoning restrictions to allow moderate-density housing near transit stations in the region, thus bringing policy and the market in closer alignment.

To allow for more housing to be built in high-demand locations, the state of Massachusetts should adopt a policy that allows moderate-density housing to be built as-of-right within a half mile of transit stations. Moderate-density housing includes duplexes, attached townhouses, and low- to mid-rise multifamily buildings.

To exemplify the affect of such a hypothetical approach to land use regulation in the state of Massachusetts, the article and the report imagines the effect of such policies on land near four commuter rail stations: Beverly Farms, Melrose Cedar Park, Needham Heights, and Wellesley Hills. The results of the experiment show decreasing home prices, and a essential first step toward solving the region's affordability problems.

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