Current Newton Zoning Map

Housing & Zoning Definitions

Affordable Housing

Housing that is affordable for a household with income up to 80% AMI and spends less than 30% of their income on housing costs as defined by HUD (U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development).

The median is where half of the households have an income above and half below that amount. This is updated annually by HUD for metropolitan areas and for counties in rural areas with different amounts depending on household size. Levels include: Extremely low (less than 30% AMI); Very low (30% – 50% AMI); Low to moderate (under 80% AMI); Middle-income (80% to 120%)

Households that spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs. Severely cost burdened households spend more than 50% of their income on housing.


The ground rules for areas (districts) within a city/town for what can be built and what kinds of uses are allowed on each lot. Uses can include: residential, commercial, multi-use and manufacturing. The location of the zones is defined in a zoning map.

There are many rules that can be used to control what can be built on a lot including: maximum building height, number of housing units allowed; minimum lot size, amount of lot area required per unit, open space requirements, size of the building footprint, number of stories, distance from the edges of the lot (setbacks), square footage of a building compared to the square footage of the lot (FAR), requiring a certain number of parking spots (or not).

A set of standards to regulate the construction and renovation of buildings. They are defined at the state level in Massachusetts. Examples of regulations include fire safety, durability of the structure, accessibility, energy standards, plumbing and ventilation. A town may not set standards that are more stringent than the state standards.

An additional set of regulations that may either limit development to protect an area or they may offer opportunities for development if certain standards are met such as an affordable housing overlay.

A local ordinance that either requires or encourages a developer to include affordable housing as part of a development, or contribute to a fund for affordable housing. Newton’s ordinance requires that buildings with 7 or more units include deed-restricted affordable units.

Construction on vacant lots or underutilized land in established neighborhoods and commercial centers. Promotes compact development.

Design standards include measurable requirements for new construction or renovations. Examples include; windows should covering X% of a building in a village or if there are two buildings on a lot they need to be X feet apart.

Design guidelines indicate a city’s preferences that guide the design of a project by an architect or builder. They are not requirements.

Agreements made by a developer that may include providing funds for local schools or playgrounds, a requirement to include locally based retail, planting trees in the neighborhood, providing public space in the project or upgrading local roads and sidewalks. Newton requires an impact (or mitigation) fee for infrastructure for stormwater, sewer and water.

Building that is allowed as long as it meets all of the zoning regulations and other regulations such as building codes and environmental regulations. In Newton, by-right projects are regulated by the Inspectional Service Department (ISD) and there is no need for full City Council approval.

The zoning code may allow additional development above the amount allowed in by-right development through the special permit process. This could include additional height or different types of uses. Current zoning in Newton requires all projects over 20,000 square feet to have a special permit. In Newton all special permits are reviewed by the City Council’s Land Use Committee and require a public hearing. Final approval from the full City Council is required for all special permits whether large or small projects.

If the additional development that is requested is not allowed in the zoning code even by special permit, then the project needs a zoning variance. This is reviewed and approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Types of Homes and Ownership Options

A separate smaller unit either within a single or two family home or in a detached building on the same lot as a single or two-family home. (AKA granny flat of in-law apartment)

In Massachusetts the state building code defines a multi-family home as a building with three or more units.

A one room living space that may or may not include separate bathroom or kitchen facilities. Even if it includes a kitchen area, this is smaller than one would find in a studio apartment.

The many types of housing that fall in between single family homes and large developments such as two family, triplexes, 4- or 8-plex, garden apartments or courtyard clusters, and small to medium condominium or apartment buildings. Because of zoning codes these kinds of homes are hard or even illegal to build in many towns and cities, including Newton.

Each household owns an individual unit but not the land beneath it. The common areas and land are owned by a non-profit, community-based corporation.

Offers separate rooms or apartments but provides shared activities of daily living with other residents.

Ownership of a home where resale values are restricted in order to maintain the long‐term affordability of the units.

Housing owned and managed by local housing authorities (LHAs), and overseen and funded by the federal or state government, for low-income families and elderly and/or disabled persons.

A short term housing option for families or individuals who do not have permanent housing but benefit from more stability than that of an emergency shelter.

Federal and Massachusetts Laws Regarding Housing

This is a state affordable housing law that sets a goal for all cities and town of 10% affordable housing. If a town has not met this goal, developers may seek to build a project under the rules of the 40B law. This requires that the project include at least 25% affordable housing. 40B projects use an expedited permitting process that includes both local and state review. In Newton, this review is done by the Zoning Board of Appeals instead of the City Council. The 10% goal is tracked with a Subsidized Housing Inventory.

When a municipality’s Subsidized Housing Inventory (“SHI”) Eligible units exceed 10% of its total housing units or when SHI units exist on sites comprising 1.5% or more of a municipality’s total land area, a municipality is said to have reached “safe harbor” status. Until safe harbor status is reached, a developer can propose a project for review under the Chapter 40B permitting process to encourage more affordable housing. Once safe harbor status has been reached a developer can still propose a 40B project, but the city will have more say in the process.

Newton reached safe harbor status in January 2024 even though only about 5.5% of housing in Newton is considered affordable because of the methods used to calculate the SHI.


This law allows a town to designate an area in the town as a smart growth district that would allow more housing. At least 25% of the housing needs to be affordable. The town can receive funds for designating a smart growth district and for each new housing unit in the district. Additional funding can be accessed through Chapter 40S to address any increases in school enrollment.

Allows communities to establish a Community Preservation Fund for open space, historic preservation, and Affordable Housing. It is funded by a surcharge of up to 3% on local property taxes with some matching funds from the state.

The federal law prohibits discrimination in housing and lending based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, or familial status. The Massachusetts Fair Housing Act extends the prohibition against discrimination to sexual orientation, marital status, ancestry, veteran status, children, age, and families receiving public assistance or rental subsidies.

Provides federal income tax credits to companies and individuals who invest in low-income housing developments. It is by far the largest source of equity for affordable housing.

State Housing Agencies and Nonprofits (What do all those acronyms stand for?)

AHMA: Works with local organizations and a statewide network to advocate for pro-housing policies at both the state and local levels.

CHAPA: A statewide organization that assists in planning and community development to encourage the production and preservation of affordable housing and to foster diverse and sustainable communities

EOHLC: The state’s lead agency for housing and community development programs and policy.

MAPC: The regional planning agency serving the people who live and work in the 101 cities and towns of Metropolitan Boston.

MHP: A state agency that supports affordable housing and neighborhood development. It provides technical assistance to communities, offers below‐market financing and bridge loans for affordable rental housing, and runs the “One Mortgage” program for first time homebuyers