Good to Great: Creating Workforce Housing

BakerPolitoCoverThe following is our weekly excerpt from NAIOP’s report, Good to Great: Recommendations for the Baker Polito Administration. The report is the result of significant input from NAIOP members and focuses on a wide range of ideas – big and small – affecting the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development (EOHED), the Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) and transportation (MassDOT). Each week will cover a different recommendation. Comments are encouraged!

EOHED: Creating Workforce Housing

The Commonwealth’s economy depends on its ability to attract and retain a talented workforce. Massachusetts has one of the highest housing costs in the nation – a significant barrier for talent recruitment and retention. This is a supply problem due, in part, to a shortage of single family and multi-family housing. Lengthy and unpredictable local permitting, combined with high land and construction labor costs, put new housing out of reach of many of the state’s working families.

Massachusetts communities have some of the strictest zoning in the region, with large minimum lot sizes, restrictions limiting multi-family housing, and unworkable cluster zoning ordinances. Communities have tightened permitting, making it harder to build and meet the demand for housing, in general, and moderately priced and affordable units, in particular. Zoning requirements have become more onerous with local rules and special by-laws, making the development process longer and more unpredictable. Currently, there is a serious lack of permits issued for housing for families.

Therefore, NAIOP suggests that the Baker Polito Administration and EOHED work to increase the production of a wide range of housing types through the implementation of a plan that allows for the construction of family-friendly apartment housing as well as smaller, denser, affordable, single family starter homes. The plan should eliminate barriers to housing production and provide new ways of meeting the existing need for workforce housing by addressing the following (among other things):

  • Expand Chapter 40S to Address School Budget Challenges: The most frequent argument used to oppose apartment construction is the burden it will put on local school budgets. That is not always the case. Although Chapter 40S has been adopted to help offset the cost of student education for projects developed under Chapter 40R, it should be expanded to incentivize and assist those communities that would substantially increase their school-age population through new housing development of any kind. An important place to start would be to include Ch. 40B projects under this school “reimbursement” program, removing one of the objections to affordable housing projects.
  • Encourage Production of Starter Homes: There is a serious lack of moderately priced single family homes (starter homes) for many working households. A goal should be set to encourage cities and towns to establish zoning districts that permit the construction of a modest number of small, single family homes that are affordable for middle-income families. “Starter Home” zoning districts could be established in the most appropriate locations for these new neighborhoods. Incentives could include qualifying for Chapter 40S funds, assistance grants, and an increase in local aid. To keep the land cost per unit down, density bonuses would be needed for this type of housing, with the requirement that the scale of the homes be smaller (e.g. 1,500 square feet.)

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