Guest Column: Housing Partnership Urges Support for State Communities Multifamily Zoning Law

January 3, 2024

The following is an opinion column submitted by the Bedford Housing Partnership:

The Bedford Housing Partnership (Housing Partnership) at its November 2023 meeting unanimously supported the implementation process in Bedford to comply with the new Massachusetts Housing Choice law known generally as the MBTA Communities Multifamily Zoning Law. 

This law requires that each of the 177 MBTA communities in Eastern Massachusetts designate an area or areas in their community where multi-family housing is allowed by-right. Bedford must designate at least 50 acres where multi-family housing is allowed by-right and allow a housing density of 15 units per acre in the designated area. 

There cannot be age or other restrictions that would make units unsuitable for families with children. Failure to comply with this law would lead to severe financial consequences including the loss of future state grant opportunities as well as possibly being sued by the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General. 

Led by the Bedford Planning Board, the Town is working diligently to come into compliance with the new law. This process includes a number of public meetings, surveys, and public hearings culminating in the selection of a specific site or sites for the purpose to be presented as a zoning bylaw to be considered at the Bedford Annual Town Meeting in March. 

Why 

There has been a shortage of housing construction for the last many decades in the Commonwealth which is a major reason housing costs keep increasing. The problem compounds itself which is why the median price for a standard single-family home has increased in Bedford from $375,000 in 2000 to $949,950 in 2022 or 153 percent and from $698,000 in 2017 or an increase of 36 percent in just 5 years1.

The fact remains that Eastern Massachusetts, of which Bedford is a part, has been and remains in a housing crisis. Not only is housing of all types becoming more expensive, there is not enough housing of all types being built, particularly affordable housing.

  • 31 percent of Bedford renters are cost-burdened meaning they are paying more than 30 percent of their income toward rent2.
  • Fewer than 50 percent of households can afford the median rent for two- or three-bedroom units in 2022 without being cost-burdened. In 2023, an income of $142,800 is needed to afford the median 2BR rent of $3,570 a month and $160,000 is needed to afford the median 3BR rent of $4,000 a month3
  • The burden is even greater on Seniors. 30 percent of households headed by someone, 65+, have an income of $50,000 or less while only 8 percent of households headed by someone under 65 years of age have an income of $50,000 or less4.
  • Buying a house is too expensive for many current residents. Median sales price of a house in 2022 is $949,9505. A household would need an income of $248,306 to afford this. Yet, the median income in Bedford is $140,467 which affords a home of $504,7006.
  • Massachusetts ranks 42nd out of 50 in the number of housing permits approved per capita. This is half of the average housing permit rate7.

Benefits

There are a number of benefits that will come from complying with this law allowing multi-family housing by-right. These include: 

  • Give people who are employed in Bedford or who grew up in Bedford greater opportunities to live in town including our public-school teachers and municipal workers. Greater densities and smaller units are expected to be lower in cost.
  • Provide downsizing options for seniors.
  • Support first time homebuyers and young families.
  • Provide additional affordable housing opportunities, and broader missing middle housing designs.

Ultimately, the goal is to provide adequate housing that is inclusive of all household types. 

The Bedford Housing Partnership urges the public to participate fully in this process and support compliance with the new law. The time to discuss and provide input on options is now. 

To stay updated and participate further, please click on the link from the Bedford Planning Board here: MBTA Communities Multifamily Zoning Requirement | Bedford, MA (bedfordma.gov). 

Additional forums will be held by the Town on the evenings of Thursday, Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. and a second on Tuesday, Jan. 9 as part of a regular Planning Board meeting.  

For more general information on the new law on the state website, go to:   https://www.mass.gov/info-details/multi-family-zoning-requirement-for-mbta-communities

The opinions expressed are those of the writers, not The Bedford Citizen.

  1. Warren Group, available for subscribers at https://bankerandtradesman.com/real-estate-transactions/town-stats/ ↩︎
  2. HUD CHAS Data for 2015-2019, available at https://www.huduser.gov/portal/datasets/cp.html ↩︎
  3. Median Income from 2021 American Community Survey (Table S1901), Median Rents (July 2023) from Zillow Observed Rent Index; income needed to afford units calculated based on median rent as 30% of household income ↩︎
  4. 2021 American Community Survey (Table B19037)
    ↩︎
  5. Warren Group ↩︎
  6. Median Income from 2021 ACS (Table S1901), Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities’ standard affordability calculator (with 20 down payment and 7.5% mortgage interest) ↩︎
  7. Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2023, page 23 ↩︎
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