Letter To The Editor: Examining Housing Requirements vs. MBTA Service

Submitted by Richard Madison

Massachusetts has issued Bedford an ultimatum: allow more multi-family housing, or else. Evidently, we aren’t building fast enough to house the State’s declining population (look it up). The Select Board wants to disseminate information so we can make informed decisions at the 2024 Town Meeting. Kudos. Here are some points I hope they address.

If the Town doesn’t comply, we lose access to free money from the Housing Choice Initiative, the Local Capital Projects Fund, and the MassWorks infrastructure program. That sounds bad, though I don’t know whether we get or plan to get anything from them anyway, so maybe losing access is no big deal.

If the Town does comply, we need 750 multi-family units on 50 acres. Units must be family friendly.  In my neighborhood over the last several years, new families average two school children. Let’s do some math.  We fund our schools at $18k/student (include bond initiatives when you check that calculation), so 750 new units at two school children each need $27,000,000 more dollars for the schools. Bedford had 5444 housing units in the MBTA study, so $5,000 more tax per house per year. Another 750 families would pay property taxes (rolled into rent or condo fees), but at 1/15 of an acre per family, perhaps not much tax.  Even if many new apartment dwellers are young or seniors, so half of them don’t have school children, that is still $2,500 per house per year.

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What do we get in exchange? Https://www.mass.gov/info-details/multi-family-zoning-requirement-for-mbta-communities says multi-family zoning puts housing closer to local shops, schools, restaurants, parks, and services. Does a housing development on Middlesex Turnpike do that? They also say it helps confront the climate crisis. Remind me how clear-cutting another 50 acres of trees (our new favorite pastime) helps with the climate crisis?

Seriously, what does the MBTA give us? Bus 351 on Middlesex Turnpike that runs the same route as LTRA Bus 14? A 45-minute walk (if you are in shape) to Bus 62 to Alewife? (It serves the VA: maybe zone their 177 acres as multi-family; they already have units with 338 non-hospital beds.)

Here is an alternative. Tell the MBTA their buses can’t stop in Bedford anymore. Then we aren’t an MBTA community, we don’t lose access to grants, we don’t need to clear more land or pay more taxes, and we can provide affordable housing on our own terms.

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The opinions expressed in Letters to the Editor are those of the writer, not The Bedford Citizen.

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C W
September 15, 2023 12:59 pm

The MBTA communities law does not require that any units are built. All that it demands is that zoning for those multi-family units exist by-right. It doesn’t require that the zoning is new, either. Bedford might already be in compliance with the law without any changes to the zoning ordinance. It also doesn’t require that the zoning covers areas that are undeveloped. The 50 acres could be 100% on already developed lots, meaning no trees would have to be cut down whatsoever.

Also, the Boston Metro area has been growing for the past decade, but hasn’t built enough new homes to match demand, which is squeezing the market. Even if the state population goes down in one year doesn’t mean the latent demand is caught up with supply.

Patty Dahlgren
September 17, 2023 7:30 am
Reply to  C W

Thank you MBTA.Thank you CW. Expand public bus transportation because access is everything. Because climate change. Because of aging demographics. Because not everything is about the almighty buck. Because I never want to live in one of those creepy doomed towns Stephen King features – choked off, no way in, and no way out.

Last edited 8 months ago by Patty Dahlgren
Richard Madison
September 17, 2023 9:06 am
Reply to  C W

Those are really good points. I hope the town’s info release also addresses exactly what our options are as far as rezoning already-developed lots, especially next to lots that are already zoned multi-family. And I looked up Boston metro population: growing every year, despite two years of drops in state population.

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