Inclusionary Zoning
Urban
Case Study

City of Newton, MA

The City of Newton, located six miles west of downtown Boston, is comprised of 13 villages, eight wards, and is governed by an elected mayor and a 24-member Board of Aldermen. Newton is a vibrant community that is a desirable place to live and work. The city is close to Boston and easily accessible via the Massachusetts Turnpike, I-95, MBTA, and multiple bus lines. The city is also home to many attractive neighborhoods, a nationally-recognized school system, an award-winning library, well-maintained parks, bicycle and fitness trails, golf courses, a public pool, and a lake.

The housing stock in Newton is predominantly single-family, with home prices typically at the upper end of the Boston real estate market. Only 12.5% of the land is zoned for multifamily use, making site selection, availability, and assembly a distinct challenge for affordable housing developers. As of 2005, 6.6% of the housing units in Newton were classified as affordable in the state's Subsidized Housing Inventory.

Louis Garfield house, Newton, MA.Critical Elements to the Program's Success:

Newton began implementing inclusionary housing practices in the 1960s and codified its first inclusionary zoning ordinance in 1977. As the first community in Massachusetts to practice inclusionary zoning, the city now has almost forty years of affordable housing experience from which all communities can learn. The inclusionary zoning ordinance in Newton has undergone two substantial modifications since the original 1977 draft. The most recent inclusionary zoning ordinance, adopted in 2003, improved on prior versions in the following ways:

  • Inclusionary units can be constructed off-site if special permits are granted contemporaneously for both developments.
  • The income qualification for eligible households is set between 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI) for rental housing to 120 percent of AMI for for-sale housing.
  • Alternatives to on-site construction of affordable housing include (1) fee-in-lieu payments to the Newton Housing Authority, or (2) construction or rehabilitation of housing off-site.
    • For developments that contain six or fewer residential units, the developer may make a cash payment of three percent of the sales price for for-sale housing, or three percent of the assessed value of each unit for rental housing, in lieu of affordable housing development.
  • The control period for affordability is forty years, during which time the developer retains ownership of the affordable units and they are leased through the Newton Housing Authority. The requirement of developer-ownership during the affordability period substantially increases risk and financial burden to the developer, creating a disincentive for affordable housing development.
  • At least ten percent of the total habitable space within a development must be reserved for affordable housing. By regulating total square footage rather than individual unit sizes, this provision gives developers flexibility to design a broader range of housing types - from luxury condominiums to affordable studios - within a single structure. The city's prior zoning code required that affordable units be equal in size, quality, and character, making mixed-income development financially unfeasible.