Map shows Newton’s villages

Addressing Common Questions & Concerns

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More Housing is Needed

A lot of people want to live in Newton while the supply of housing has changed little over the years.

When a new development is blocked or reduced in size, that does not stop people from wanting to live in Newton. Some will look elsewhere but others will continue to look in Newton driving up the cost of the existing homes.

A recent analogy: During the pandemic, fewer new cars were available due to supply chain issues. But, the demand for cars did not drop as much. Therefore, people with higher incomes turned to used cars driving up the cost of those cars.

When there are fewer new housing options, people with higher incomes still need a place to live. So, they turn to buying “used” (existing) homes which drives up the cost of those homes. This is what continually happens in Newton.

Check out the short video, “Cruel Musical Chairs (or why is the rent so high?)  for a quick look at this topic.

Even if the new housing is expensive now it will become older housing which will be the more moderate priced homes in the future.

Because housing production has not kept up with demand, we are suffering from years and years of new housing not getting built. If new homes had been built there would be a greater supply of moderately priced homes.

Many large single family homes have only one or two residents as their children no longer live there. With few options in Newton for downsizing, people stay longer than they may want in these large homes.

The population of Newton is aging and school enrollment is declining because there are fewer homes available for younger families.

Although much of Newton has already been developed, there are many underused parking lots or underused buildings where new development is possible.

Most new development happens when property changes hands. There needs to be both a willing seller and a willing buyer.

In Newton Highlands, for example, some of the single-story buildings have long term leases with tenants so any new development in those locations could not happen for a long time.

Affordability

Because of Newton’s inclusionary ordinance, 109 new affordable apartments have been built in three recent mixed income projects  – Austin St., Trio and Allée on the Charles. Another 224 affordable apartments are in the works in 4 projects under construction.

There is only one 100% affordable project in the works, the West Newton Armory with 43 units. It is still waiting for financing to come through.

To be 100% affordable, developers need to secure substantial public funding which is limited. Although zoning alone can’t ensure that affordable housing will be built, it lays the ground rules that make it more possible. Deeper affordability needs to come from other sources as it needs funding to cover some of the costs of the development.

While many would like non-profit affordable housing developers to build in Newton, they don’t have the financial resources needed to take the risk, take the extra time and afford all the associated legal fees.

By right means that if you follow all the rules and standards in the zoning code, you do not need to go through what is a lengthy, costly and risky special permit process. Special permits in Newton require approval by the full City Council.

Parking

When a project is required to take up space for parking, fewer housing units can be built. Having fewer units in a building often makes the units larger and more expensive.

Building underground parking can cost from $50,000 – $80,000 per parking spot adding a significant expense to construction.

Having more parking available encourages more car ownership.

New developments near transit that have limited parking will attract people who want to drive less and walk, bike, or take transit more.

The primary materials used in parking garages —concrete and steel—are large generators of upfront carbon emissions (or embodied carbon). So, the greater the required parking, the higher the carbon emissions.

Sustainability 

Sprawl causes more traffic as people need to drive everywhere – work, stores, schools…. When people live further west and work in Boston, there’s more traffic and congestion in Newton on the Pike, on Rt. 9, and on the larger local streets such as Washington St, Beacon St., or Watertown St.

With the many villages across the city and many transit stops, many neighborhoods could become more walkable. Historically, this is how Newton developed.
Suburban developments require more land to be clear cut, paved and dug up for construction and utilities. In contrast, new construction in Newton is usually on previously developed land that is already served by roads and utilities.

A key way to accomplish this is to build more housing near existing transit.

People who live in multi-family buildings near amenities and transit drive less often and drive fewer miles than people who live in single family homes spread out across the region.

For example, compare Newton which has a lot of transit availability to Hopkinton, 26 miles from Boston, where new developments are being built but has little public transit.

  • In Newton 12.9% of people use transit to get to work while in Hopkinton only 1.2% use transit;
  • On average households in Newton own 1.6 cars while in Hopkinton the average is 2.2 cars/household; Almost 40% of households in Newton have only one car or have no cars.
  • On average households in Newton drive 14,200 miles/year while in Hopkinton the average is 28,500 miles/year. In Hopkinton you need to drive almost everywhere.

They have shared walls which cuts down on energy use. They are generally smaller than single-family homes so less energy is needed for heating and cooling per person. The size of a home is a key driver in increasing or decreasing carbon emissions.

With both track and station upgrades, the Green Line will be able to use new subway cars with increased capacity, improved safety features and more accessibility. The MBTA has already approved buying more than 100 of these new supercars.

There finally appears to be progress on upgrading the commuter rail stations. To get the process started, the MBTA is considering upgrading the Newtonville stop first. This will allow more trains to stop in Newton. These changes will take time but so will any new development near those transit stops.

Schools, Services & Infrastructure

Multi-family buildings frequently have older adults who have downsized or younger couples before they have children.

Plus, since development of new multi-family homes takes time, the school department can project changes in enrollment are updated every year. With declining school enrollment, Newton has the capacity to give more students the opportunity to attend our excellent schools. If the school age population continues to decline, elementary or middle schools will have to be closed and consolidated.

The development of new multi-family homes takes time and the school department updates their enrollment projections every year. Those projections include both new developments under construction and ones that have been permitted.

With declining school enrollment, Newton has the capacity to give more students the opportunity to attend our excellent schools. If the school age population continues to decline, elementary or middle schools will have to be closed and consolidated.

In a financial analysis of new multi-family homes in Newton that had been recently built or permitted plus those in the permitting process, estimated new revenue was approximately $7.5 million more/year than new expenses (as of June 2022).

The analysis looked at over 3,500 new units including apartments, condos and senior housing. Revenue included property taxes, excise taxes, and the CPA tax. Expenses included schools and the fire and police departments.

Newton’s stormwater ordinance requires buildings with 5 or more units to follow specific wastewater requirements; pay mitigation fees for water and sewer infrastructure; and develop and implement a stormwater management plan.

Since new development in Newton most often takes place on previously developed land, new development with new systems often reduces the amount of stormwater runoff from the site.

Some developments have funded improvements to the roads and sidewalks near their buildings; some have agreed to pay for putting utility wires underground; and others have provided funds for park and playground improvements. Because multi-family buildings have lower costs per household for paving roads, maintaining sidewalks, street cleaning and snow plowing, more of their property taxes can be used for other city expenses.
Newton just passed new zoning to meet the MBTA Communities Act. Does Newton need to do any more?

Allowing more people to live in or near our villages will result in:

  • less driving and lower car ownership because you have more walking and transit options,
  • more affordability because you don’t need the large expense of owning a car,
  • more affordability as the housing could be smaller,
  • more customers for local stores and restaurants because people who can walk to the village are more frequent customers.

New homes in that area would help the local businesses by adding more customers just a short walk a way. Zoning (new groundrules) would have to be developed to help guide what could be built in that area.

Work needs to be done to develop zoning that could decrease teardowns and incentivize the preservation of existing homes.

Parking is regulated by zoning. Newton currently requires two parking spots per unit. Parking is expensive to build and takes up space that could be used for housing people instead of cars. Updated standards are needed to help address affordability and climate change.