Statement: Pioneer Institute in Support of Accessory Dwelling Units

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Pioneer Institute Statement in Support of Accessory Dwelling Units

May 2, 2024

BOSTON – This Wednesday, the Boston Globe editorial board endorsed the accessory dwelling units (ADUs) provision in Governor Healey’s Affordable Homes Act, her $4.1 billion housing bond bill.  Pioneer Institute has long championed ADUs as a potentially important piece in the policy puzzle of how Massachusetts can provide sufficient supply to attract and retain a high-quality talent pipeline.

In addition to opinion pieces and media appearances, the Institute’s work on the issue is grounded in data-driven research, including Getting Home: Overcoming barriers to Housing in Greater Boston (2003), Residential Land-Use Regulation in Eastern Massachusetts: A Study of 187 Communities (2005), Housing and Land use policy in Massachusetts (2007), and The State of Zoning for Accessory Dwelling Units (2018).

We cannot rely on the same old way of permitting and building homes if we want to meaningfully address the state’s housing shortage. The Commonwealth needs immediate policy responses to address the housing affordability crisis if we are to stem the tide of young adults leaving Massachusetts for more affordable states.  This outmigration of talent undercuts the state’s key economic advantage – its concentration of talent.

As the Globe editorial points out, Governor Healey’s proposal would allow homeowners to build ADUs of no more than 900 square feet on properties zoned for single-family homes without obtaining variances. Municipalities would be prohibited from imposing limitations like parking minimums or requirements that occupants be related to the property owner, but would retain the  authority to impose “reasonable restrictions” over things like setbacks from property lines or restricting short-term rentals.  Facilitating the building of these smaller, more affordable dwellings will provide a much needed and more affordable alternative to the state’s current housing stock.

Opponents fear the loss of local control of zoning; the conversion of single-family homes into investor-owned two-family homes that will drive out longtime residents; and the potential strain on schools, roads, and infrastructure.

These concerns are not without merit, but the impacts are likely to be small. Investors are already buying up residential properties because of the high rents they command and the high interest rates that make mortgages increasingly out of reach for would-be home buyers.  A surge in student enrollment is unlikely given the small size of ADUs and the state’s low birth rate.  It should be remembered that ADUs are a very environmentally friendly way to expand housing supply. Finally, as Massachusetts’ population ages, ADUs present an intriguing way of allowing older residents to downsize.

Massachusetts’ strong history of local control is in many ways admirable, but it has also stymied regionalization of public health, transportation, public safety, and other reforms that could improve services and prove cost-effective. And it has made housing unaffordable. 

Pioneer Institute supports ADUs because they are a cost-effective, immediate and environmentally friendly way to address housing affordability.