Panel Touts Benefits of Compliance with Multi-Unit Housing Law

Map of MBTA Communities affected by the MBTA Communities Law. Map: https://www.mass.gov/orgs/executive-office-of-housing-and-livable-communities

The Bedford Housing Partnership is enumerating what it says are transformative benefits that could result from the town’s compliance with the state law requiring zones that allow multi-family housing by right.

In a lengthy statement prepared during a recent meeting, the panel “urges the public to participate fully in this process and support compliance with the new law,” noting, “Ultimately, the goal is to provide adequate housing that is inclusive of all household types.”

The law affects towns and cities served by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, including communities adjacent to routes. In Bedford’s case, the requirement is for a minimum of 50 acres with a density of at least 15 units per acre with no age restrictions.

The Planning Board has been exploring possible boundaries for compliance over the past several months during regular meetings, a focus group, and two public forums. Deliberations are scheduled to continue at the board’s 8 p.m. virtual meeting on Thursday. 

The board’s goal is to prepare a zoning overlay plan for inclusion on the March 25 Annual Town Meeting warrant. Deadline for compliance with the statute is Dec. 31. 

The law does not require the construction of any housing, only the opportunity to build it by right in parts of town.

Part of the Planning Board’s approach has been to line up endorsements from large and small boards and committees. The Housing Partnership is expanding that support to advocacy. 

The Partnership’s primary focus is on the growth and maintenance of the town’s affordable housing inventory. The panel, which includes representatives of the Select and Planning boards, originated from a merger of the town’s Affordable Housing and Fair Housing Committees more than 15 years ago.

According to the group’s statement, regional housing demand is overwhelming supply, as reflected in the escalating median prices for a standard single-family house in Bedford. 

The partnership wrote that, according to the Warren Group, the median price rose 36 percent over the past five years from $698,000 to $949,950. The median price in 2000 was $375,000, an increase of more than 150 percent in the past 22 years.

The Housing Partnership said that “greater densities and smaller units are expected to be lower in cost.” Therefore, construction resulting from the new law would not only help first-time home buyers and generate more downsizing options for other residents, but also “give people who are employed in Bedford or who grew up in Bedford greater opportunities to live in town, including our teachers and municipal workers.” 

Another outcome would be “additional affordable housing opportunities, and broader ‘missing middle’ housing designs,” the group pointed out. 

The statement offered various data points to illustrate the critical local need for expanding the housing inventory: 

  • Citing 2015-2019 statistics from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than 30 percent of renters in Bedford are “cost-burdened, meaning they are paying more than 30 percent of their income toward rent.”
  • Less than half of the renting households “could 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 two-bedroom rent of $3,570 a month and $160,000 is needed to afford the median three-bedroom rent of $4,000 a month,” data gleaned from last summer’s Zillow Observed Rent Index. 
  • According to the 2021 American Community Survey, in Bedford “30 percent of households headed by someone 65-plus have an income of $50,000 or less,” compared to 8 percent of households headed by someone younger than 65.

“Buying a house is too expensive for many current residents,” the statement asserted. “Median sales price of a house in 2022 is $949,950.  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 $504,700.” 

The statement referenced using an affordability formula from the state Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities.

Read the complete statement here.

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Tom Kenny
January 4, 2024 3:26 pm

If a particular town isn’t affordable, wouldn’t the logical solution be to find housing in a different town? I’d like to live in Weston or Carlisle, but they’re too expensive – so I live here. This seems to be an easy solution that benefits the people who already live in Bedford in that it doesn’t 1) add to population density, 2) make the town less attractive, and 3) cause the traffic to become even worse than it already is. It should also be noted that rising property values are a good thing for existing residents, not something that should be lamented. Sometimes a common sense approach is best!

Daniel Coyne
January 9, 2024 4:12 pm
Reply to  Tom Kenny

Agree with this generally. I think I’d add a 4th item to your list: 4) the potential addition of 100s of housing units suitable for families (and that is a requirement of this new State policy) will require many millions of $$$ of investment in schools to fit all those children.

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