Entries by Amy Dain

Addressing Greater Boston’s Housing Crunch

Greater Boston’s housing crisis has emerged as one of the most pressing policy challenges for the region.  Building enough homes for the growing workforce and retiring baby-boomers has proven challenging.  In 2004, I conducted a study for Pioneer Institute of residential land use regulations in all of the communities within 50 miles of Boston to understand what was holding the region back from building enough houses. As policymakers consider new solutions to the decades-old challenge, I have been receiving a number of calls and emails for information about my research on zoning. I have been referring policymakers, advocates, and reporters to two reports: Residential Land Use Regulation in Eastern Massachusetts: A Study of 187 Communities.  This report covers the technical […]

Zoning out or zoning in-clusionary

Hot trends in local zoning include age-restricted villages, in-law abodes, and inclusionary zoning – a requirement or incentives to include affordable houses in market rate developments. Our 2004 survey revealed that 99 of the 187 communities within 50 miles of Boston have inclusionary bylaws on the books. Developers argue that some inclusionary laws drive up the cost of development (and ultimately the price of market rate housing), and can make some projects infeasible. Housing advocates argue that inclusionary policies are the best way to ensure that affordable housing is integrated throughout communities, and built in the first place. NYU just released a study comparing inclusionary laws in MA localities to San Francisco and DC regions. If you are considering inclusionary […]

Seeking better bylaws: Zoning for new housing and historic preservation.

Chris Skelly at the Massachusetts Historical Commission asked me for examples of projects permitted under an accessory apartment bylaw, adaptive re-use bylaw, downtown revitalization zoning, flexible dimensions bylaw or up-zoning where “new housing was produced while at the same time a historic property was rehabilitated”. He wants to include case studies of bylaws that work in a guidebook to “Preservation through Bylaws and Ordinances”. Pioneer’s policy recommendations have focused more on state level reform of land use laws. We are also happy to promote local reform to zoning that allows for growth and works for the environment. If you have examples of projects that involved housing development and historic preservation, please list them here, and I will forward the ideas […]

Forecast on foreclosures dismal. What to do?

More than 7,500 properties were foreclosed in MA in 2007. The numbers are projected to be much higher this year. The vacant, lender-owned properties tend to be concentrated in certain neighborhoods, often in our older industrial cities. There are no easy solutions, but CHAPA has taken a first step at addressing the crisis with the release of a briefing paper on the topic. Take a look at the paper here. Got ideas about what can be done? Or thoughts on CHAPA’s paper? Post them here.

CitiStat: Don’t make a sham of it

Pioneer is on the cheering squad, promoting CitiStat programs. We are featuring CitiStat in our April 25 conference on revitalizing Middle Cities (rsvp to jfenton@pioneerinst.wpengine.com.) Pioneered by cities such as Baltimore and Somerville, CitiStat is a way for city leadership to use data to improve delivery of traditional city services. Dedicating its spring lineup of events to stat programs, the Rappaport Institute just released an excellent brief on the pitfalls setting up CitiStat. Professor Bob Behn has observed stat programs all across the country and came up with 7 ways that these efforts often get it wrong, turning opportunities to produce results into “symbolic shams.” Come to our conference to learn more!

Are local zoning, wetlands regulations “market oriented”?

At Thursday’s Pioneer forum on wetlands policy, one participant commented that tough local regulation of housing development IS market-oriented policy. The regulations raise the price of construction in the hinterlands and near wetlands, she argued, thus steering development to places it makes more sense – where there is infrastructure to support it. On one level, yes, the local regulations do raise the cost of construction, and in that way they can work as a market-tool to slow construction, where that is the goal. Problems on a few more levels, though. First, the local regulations are not, as she might hope, steering development towards downtowns and transportation corridors. Instead, localities too often use regulations to slow development both in ‘smart growth’ […]

Back to work on zoning reform

Breaking news: The fight to repeal 40B via the 2008 ballot is already over. The Secretary of State’s Office reported this morning that it certified 33,849 signatures for the initiative, short of the required 66,593 to get it on the ballot. According to CHAPA’s 2006 count, 40B is responsible for the creation of approximately 43,000 housing units in 736 developments statewide since its inception in 1969. In an ideal world, there would be no need for 40B. Better for the housing to be built in accordance with local and regional plans and zoning – if only that zoning allowed for all kinds of housing to be built. But our communities erect paper walls of regulations to keep out apartment buildings, […]

Too much house

I’ve heard people comment that there must not be a market for modestly sized single-family homes, or they would be built. Easton Developer Nick Mirrione does not see it that way. He is trying to build cottage homes in Easton, and he’s been knocking on doors to recruit supporters. In a presentation he did for us at Pioneer, he noted that for the first time in history, more than half of the households in the U.S. are not married couple households. He would like to build homes for the more than 50% of MA households that either do not have children or are single parents with children. The McMansion is often too much house for this demographic. Try as he […]

Carrots for homes

The Greater Boston Housing Report Card released last week concludes that 40R and 40S “have established an impressive track record in a very short period of time.” Given the numerous reasons that communities cite for opposing development, it is great that the state has provided a reason in the form of the 40R/40S financial incentive to allow dense housing development in town centers, along transit lines, and in other areas that make sense. Whether the approach is really working is critical information for policymakers. Despite the slowdown in the market, greater Boston remains one of the most expensive areas in the country to buy a house, and our current pattern of large lot McMansionization is consuming too much land to […]

They might also consider pricing

Globe West recently highlighted the issue that day-of-the-week restrictions on watering lawns may actually lead to increased watering.  The restriction can serve as a reminder to water on a regular basis.  The article notes that the state may consider stricter restrictions.  Perhaps the state and municipalities should also consider using pricing as a policy tool to achieve conservation.  I would direct them to Pioneer’s recent paper on the topic by Professors Rob Stavins and Sheila Olmstead at this link.

Water water everywhere

Managing Water Demand: Price vs. Non-Price Conservation Programs While the Commonwealth is blessed with an abundance of lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands such as bogs and marshes, our residents use enough water to strain the water supply just about every summer.  The United States Geological Survey reports that Massachusetts’ rainfall and groundwater levels are average this year.  Still, communities across eastern Massachusetts, in particular along the 495 growth corridor, are adopting a range of policies to manage water demand and promote conservation.  Oddly, they often ignore the most cost-effective policy tool for achieving conservation: water pricing. Last week Pioneer released a report by Professor Sheila Olmstead of Yale University and Professor Robert Stavins of Harvard University that sites fifty years […]

Not so obvious: who is driving the market for 55+ housing?

Sunday Globe’s real estate section didn’t get it right about age-restricted housing: “Right now, there’s no question 55-plus housing is driven by demographics.” No question — baby-boomers are driving demand for modest housing in traditionally scaled neighborhoods. The question is — Are baby-boomers really demanding houses that they can only re-sell to people 55 years and older, or is something else driving the market for such deed-restricted houses?  According to Pioneer’s survey of local zoning regulations, just over half of the communities in eastern MA have zoning for age-restricted housing (96 of 187 municipalities). Often, the only way to build neighborhoods of traditional density is through the 55+ zoning. While some seniors are looking for neighborhoods where there are no […]

Deed restrictions, indeed

According to Commonwealth Magazine’s 2007 spring edition, the Patrick administration is a receptive audience for Pioneer’s policy paper, Housing Programs in Weak Market Neighborhoods: Developing the Right Tools for Urban Revitalization, written by Peter Gagliardi. The report details how well-meaning state policies may actually hurt the revitalization of poorer communities. The study finds that most state programs are intended to ensure affordability in the state’s heated housing markets. In neighborhoods with weak housing markets, vacant properties, abandoned buildings, and aging infrastructure, these programs are counterproductive: restricting homeowners’ equity, discouraging the sale of redeveloped properties and concentrating poverty. The good press is encouraging. Much work remains to get the right set of policy tools in place for urban revitalization. Pioneer continues […]

Who’s to pay for affordable housing?

Martha’s Vinyard and Nantucket residents are advocating for a new levy on home sales to pay for affordable housing. State lawmakers are now debating this proposal for the islands. Lawmakers, developers, and housing advocates have been debating variations on this kind of policy for some time. Pioneer’s research shows that over half of communities in eastern Mass have zoning policies that either mandate or encourage developers of include affordable units in new developments, or pay a fee in lieu of building the affordable units. As of 2004, 11 cities and towns in eastern Mass required that a certain percent of new houses in ANY development be designated as affordable. Some developers and real estate experts question the legality of such […]