Newton, Politics, Metro

Newton Housing Partnership Members Advocate for Greater Availability of Affordable Housing Through Zoning

The Newton Housing Partnership (NHP) advocated for the prioritization of affordable housing in Newton’s new zoning laws during the organization’s monthly meeting on Jan. 18. 

“The gists of our conversations … have been to be sure that features of the village center zoning don’t have unintended consequences of inhibiting opportunities for the production of affordable housing,” David Rockwell, a member of NHP, said.

The City of Newton is currently undergoing the first overhaul of the city’s zoning ordinances in over 60 years, according to its website.

The Newton Free Library featured an exhibit from Sept. 1 to Oct. 16, 2022, in which various maps and graphics depicting the proposed zoning changes in Newton’s village centers were on display. 

During the current phase of the zoning plan, Phase II, city representatives presented the maps to the public and received input from residents.

Lizbeth Heyer, the chair of NHP, wrote a letter that she presented to the Newton Zoning and Planning Committee on Jan. 9  in which she provided suggestions to the current zoning drafts that aim to address the lack of affordable housing in the city.

Some of the suggestions from the letter include expanding the Village Center 1 districts, lowering the residential parking requirement, and exploring the possibility of lowering the 25-foot minimum for space between buildings, among other ideas.

Heyer noted that Newton still does not provide adequate amounts of affordable housing, despite the city taking actions to address cost-of-living issues in Newton in the past..

“It has been fifty years since the original version of Chapter 40B passed the State Legislature and yet Newton still has not achieved 10% affordability – we clearly need more tools,” Heyer wrote in the letter.

Chapter 40B is a state statute that enables local zoning boards of appeals to approve affordable housing developments if at least 20 to 25 percent of the units have long-term affordability restrictions, according to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ website.

Josephine McNeil, a member of NHP, emphasized the importance of city government officials considering affordable housing a priority in Wednesday’s meeting.

The city must continue its work to ensure that low-income residents are able to better access affordable housing, McNeil said.

“We do want to get to the point where we can draw some conclusion from the information we get and then make some recommendations about what Newton can do to achieve what we think are good outcomes for people who are seeking to find affordable units,” she said.

Above all, Heyer and NHP urged Newton officials to commit to making the city a more affordable and welcoming place.

“Especially as Newton’s housing prices continue to escalate while the need for housing that is inclusive and affordable to all is unprecedented, we urge you to adopt changes to the zoning code for our village centers to support a measured but meaningful increase to our affordable housing supply,” Heyer wrote.

January 19, 2023