Newton Free Library

Articles and Research

Van floating down Cheesecake Brook during flood after heavy rain 2021
Cheesecake Brook Flood 2021

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Zoning and Affordability

Repeat after me: building any new homes reduces housing costs for all. Financial Times, 2023. Building unsubsidized housing pushes down rents and prices while freeing up cheaper properties.

Cruel Musical Chairs (or Why Is Rent So High) Sightline Institute. A short video illustrating at the most basic level, when there aren’t enough homes, prices will keep rising. And when there are plenty of homes, it helps prices stay down. It’s like a huge game of musical chairs.

More Flexible Zoning Helps Contain Rising Rents, The Pew Trust, 2023. New data from 4 jurisdictions that are allowing more housing shows sharply slowed rent growth.

Supply Skepticism Revisited, Vicki Been et al. 2023.  Assesses each of the key arguments people often make about the impact of supply and demand on the housing market.  Reviews recent research that supports the premise that adding new homes moderates price increases and therefore makes housing more affordable to low- and moderate-income families.

Zoned Out: Why Massachusetts Needs to Legalize Apartments Near Transit. Boston Indicators. 2020. Greater Boston is a thriving region with a strong economy and proactive government supports to help ensure opportunity for all. Housing is one area where we fall far short of this potential. Too many cities and towns restrict the dynamic functioning of the housing market. This paper proposes one big, yet also relatively simple, idea for helping on the home building front—legalizing apartments near transit.

Parking Requirements

Ending minimum parking requirements was a policy win for the Twin Cities, Minnesota Reformer, 2023. By ending strict minimum parking requirements, the Twin Cities have been able to improve both housing affordability and their urban form.

One solution to fight climate change? Fewer parking spaces. Grist, 2023. As the country attempts to aggressively cut carbon emissions, reducing dependence on fossil fuels will also mean rethinking what transportation and public space look like, especially in cities – a place to start, eliminating parking minimums.

Minimum Parking Requirements: A needed review, City of Ottawa. A very short animated video with a brief introduction to the downsides of parking requirements.

Progress on Parking Mandates. Parking Reform Network. Explore the reforms of over 200 cities on a clickable map of the U.S.

Boston City Council Votes to End Minimum Parking Requirements for Affordable Housing. Streetsblog Mass. 2021. Minimum off-street parking requirements were eliminated for projects where at least 60 percent of the units are income-restricted for families whose household incomes are at or below the area median income.

Analysis: The Decline and Fall of Mandatory Parking Minimums. Streetsblog Mass. 2022. Highlights examples of parking reforms in cities across the country.

Zoning and Housing

Housing Breaks People’s Brains, Jerusalem Demsas, The Atlantic, 2022. Supply skepticism and shortage denialism are pushing against the actual
solution to the housing crisis: building enough homes.

Local Zoning Laws and the Supply of Multifamily Housing in Greater Boston. Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. 2022. This report finds that density restrictions play a key role in limiting the multifamily housing supply. Relaxing density restrictions, either alone or in combination with relaxing maximum-height restrictions and allowing multifamily housing, is the most fruitful policy reform for increasing supply and reducing multifamily rents.

Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing. Massachusetts Data. National Low Income Housing Coalition. 2022. Documents the significant gap between renters’ wages and the cost of rental housing across the United States.

Newton and Other Communities Must Reform the Housing Approval Process. Katherine Einstein and Maxwell Palmer. 2020. Commentary based on research showing that people who show up and speak at public hearings on housing do not represent the whole community.

The Way Forward: A New Narrative for Housing in Fairfield County. Fairfield County’s Center for Housing Opportunity. 2020. a series of messaging recommendations based on research into how residents feel about housing affordability and related issues like education and economic development. Very applicable to Newton.

Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2022. The Boston Foundation. 2022. Extensive economic and housing data with analysis and policy recommendations.

Cracking the Zoning Code. Urban Institute. 2022. A website that is a great primer on zoning and affordability.

Climate Change, Land Use and Zoning

Sierra Club Urban Infill Policy, 2019. “Concentrating economic opportunities, new homes, services, and amenities in existing communities protects and mitigates against sprawl, reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, while creating livable communities.”

Losing Ground Nature’s Value in a Changing Climate, Mass Audubon 2020. Recommendation – Land Development: Promote compact, energy-efficient development concentrated around public transit and other existing infrastructure.

Why preservationists must be more green to protect our historic places. Sara Bronin. The Hill. 2019. “The two important goals of safeguarding our American heritage and protecting environmental resources should not be difficult for us to reconcile.”

Building for proximity: The role of activity centers in reducing total miles traveled, Adie Tomer and Caroline George, Brookings, 2023. America can bring down household trip distances and, in the process, improve environmental quality, health outcomes, and household budgets. But to do so, public policy must do more to promote development in high-proximity neighborhoods.

Transport and Building Emissions Are Not Separate—They Are ‘Built Environment Emissions. Lloyd Alter, 2021. “We have to stop putting everything into separate silos, it all connects.” “It’s much easier to live a low-carbon life if you live in a place designed before the car took over, be it a small town or an older city. But for the people who don’t do that, the problems are immense.”

What Are the Emissions and Climate Implications of Land-Use Regulations? Ananya Hariharan and Yonah Freemark. 2022. “The increasing relative contributions of the transportation and buildings sectors to greenhouse gas emissions raise questions about how we plan our cities.”

Sustainable and Walkable Neighborhoods

Urban Land Use Reform: The Missing Key to Climate Action. RMI, 2023. Land use reforms can reduce emissions by: Shortening distances people need to drive; Reducing building energy use by allowing attached and multifamily housing types, as well as integrating them with commercial buildings; and Curbing sprawl and preserving land.

15-Minute Neighborhoods: Repairing Regional Harms and Building Vibrant Neighborhoods For All. Boston Indicators and the Massachusetts Housing Partnership. 2021. Greater Boston is well-positioned to create networks of more walkable neighborhoods and town centers. However, capitalizing on the opportunity will require policy changes to improve housing access, mobility infrastructure and equitable economic development.

Urban Villages: The Key to Sustainable Community Economic Development. 2022. Compact, walkable urban villages support sustainable economic development by reducing transportation costs, leaving residents with more money to spend on local goods, and by creating more efficient and attractive commercial districts.

We can’t beat the climate crisis without rethinking land use. Brookings, 2021. After decades of sprawl, the U.S. has the dubious honor of being a world leader in both building-related energy consumption and vehicle miles traveled per capita. Making matters worse, lower-density development also pollutes our water and requires higher relative emissions during the initial construction.

Housing and Equity

Liberal Suburbs Have Their Own Border Wall, Richard D. Kahlenberg, The Atlantic, 2023. Residents of rich blue towns talk about inclusion, but their laws do the opposite.

Qualified Renters Need Not Apply Race and Voucher Discrimination in the Metro Boston Rental Housing Market. The Boston Foundation. 2020. Data from a research study that found high levels of discrimination in housing based on both race and the use of housing vouchers.

Representation in the Housing Process: Best Practices for Improving Racial Equity. The Boston Foundation. Katherine Levine Einstein and Maxwell Palmer. 2022. Researchers found that the housing process as it stands reflects a system that lacks diversity and representation across multiple dimensions. Then takes a closer look at how two communities, Haverhill and Newton, considered ways to create more equitable processes.

The Benefits of Socioeconomically and Racially Integrated Schools and Classrooms. The Century Foundation. 2019. A summary of the research on how all students benefit from more diverse classrooms.

Fifty Years Of “The People v. HUD”: A Timeline of Significant Civil Rights Lawsuits and HUD Fair Housing Advances. Poverty & Race Research Action Council.

Accessory Apartments (ADUs)

The ABCs of ADUs. AARP. 2021. An introductory and best-practices guide for how towns, cities, counties and states can include ADUs in their mix of housing options.

Accessory dwellings offer one solution to the affordable housing problem. Washington Post. 2021. “With housing prices soaring beyond the reach of low- and middle-income Americans, many cities are moving to create more affordable rentals by significantly expanding dwellings commonly known as garage apartments, in-law suites and granny flats.”

Smart Growth / Smart Energy Toolkit Modules – Accessory Dwelling Units. Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. A short introduction to ADUs, the benefits such new housing opportunities and the wise use of natural resources.

Housing and Zoning in Newton

The Character of the Neighborhood in Newtonville. Rev. Howard Haywood. Newton TAB, 1/21/15.

Newton Zoning Timeline, 1921–53. Alice Ingerson.

Newton and Fair Housing: Some Things We Need to Know and Remember. Kathleen Hobson.

Liberalism in the Suburbs. Newsweek. 1970.

Deeper Dive into Research on Housing and Zoning

Local Zoning Laws and the Supply of Multifamily Housing in Greater Boston, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, 2022. This report examines how multifamily zoning, maximum-height restrictions, and density restrictions on residential construction, or a combination of any of these three zoning reforms, affect the supply and rents of multifamily houses as well as house prices for single-family homes.

Who Makes Planning Choices? Lydia Lo, Eleanor Noble, Yonah Freemark, 2023. Based on a survey of more than 600 land-use decision-making bodies, research found that women, people of color, and renters are systematically underrepresented on land-use decision-making bodies.

Folk Economics and the Persistence of Political Opposition to New Housing, Clayton Hall et al., 2022. While many people attribute opposition to new housing as acting on self-interest, this research points to another basic problem – much of the public flatly denies that housing deregulation would make housing more affordable. For them, supply-and-demand is the “ideology”—and popular complaints about the downsides of new construction are “common sense.”

How to Increase Housing Affordability: Understanding Local Deterrents to Building Multifamily Housing, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, 2022. This paper focuses on three regulations and their interactions: multifamily zoning, maximum-height restrictions, and density restrictions that determine the number of housing units that can be built on an acre of land.

Filtering of Apartment Housing between 1980 and 2018. National Multifamily Housing Council. 2020. The study found that in past decades the substantial flow of new construction, largely targeted to middle- and higher-income groups, enabled the filtering process to operate and create affordable housing opportunities for low-income households.

Quantifying the Cost of Sprawl: In infrastructure, service delivery and tax receipts. Bloomberg. 2013. A look at how much more infrastructure – roads, water and sewer systems, utilities – and service delivery costs per household for single family homes versus multi-family homes.

Research Roundup: The Effect of Market-Rate Development on Neighborhood Rents. Shane Phillips. 2021. A review of six working papers on the impact of market rate development. Five find that market-rate housing makes nearby housing more affordable across the income distribution of rental units, and one finds mixed results.

Urban Institute’s “The cost of affordable housing: Does it pencil out?” An interactive website to explore the cost of developing affordable housing. “It turns out building affordable housing is not particularly affordable. In fact, there is a huge gap between what these buildings cost to construct and maintain and the rents most people can pay. Without the help of too-scarce government subsidies for creating, preserving, and operating affordable apartments, building these homes is often impossible. This tool helps explain why.”

Policy Recommendations to Make Apartments More Affordable. National Multifamily Housing Council. 2022. Land-use restrictions, zoning restrictions, parking requirements, slow permitting, and much more, add significantly to the cost of construction. Recommendations for some key changes at the local level that could reduce the cost of building more housing.

Why Housing Is So Expensive — Particularly in Blue States. Podcast with Ezra Klein and Jenny Schuetz. 2022. A massive housing shortage in major cities has resulted in skyrocketing rents. Low- and middle-income individuals find themselves priced out. Young people increasingly view homeownership as out of reach. Homelessness is rampant.

These outcomes weren’t inevitable. And the solutions are incredibly simple: Build more housing in places where it’s needed, build cheaper forms of housing, build housing alongside public transit, provide more housing vouchers. So why don’t we act on them?