Inclusionary Housing Investigation

In February, I was engaged to help the Town of Westport improve its Inclusionary Housing bylaw.  The objective of the assignment was to recommend improvements to the bylaw so that it is more effective at producing affordable units.  Inclusionary bylaws are designed to require that developments over specified thresholds include a certain percentage of units or lots that are restricted and affordable to low or moderate-income homebuyers or tenants.   If done in accordance with the state's Local Initiative Program requirements, these units can count on the state's subsidized housing inventory (SHI).   

I tackled this assignment by first getting input on potential case studies from a variety colleagues at Massachusetts Housing Partnership, Department of Housing and Community Development, and Citizens' Housing and Planning Association.  I also reviewed 10 reports and prior studies. 

Between the suggestions of my colleagues and information from the studies, I accumulated a list of 30 communities, collected all of their bylaws, and weeded out those that weren't purely inclusionary or not comparable to Westport.   I ended up with a list of 11 communities that I focused on.  In particular, the bylaws I found most helpful were Arlington, Barnstable, Duxbury, Groveland, Hopkinton, Norton, Peabody, and Wellesley.   Elements of some other bylaws that weren't purely inclusionary also had helpful components, particulalry Dennis and Southborough. 

Most inclusionary bylaws in Massachusetts don't produce any affordable units.  So, how do you structure an inclusionary bylaw to increase its effectiveness?  Here are the bylaw elements that I've found helpful (my conclusions combine information from the prior studies and my case studies): 

  • offer a density bonus (or other incentive, like reduced lot size, other dimensional waivers) to allow developers to earn a reasonable return on investment
  • offer a cash payment option (especially if your community has an active Municipal Affordable Housing Trust to accept the payment) - based on a reasonable formula
  • offer land donation option (also helpful to have an active Housing Trust with this option)
  • offer an off-site development option
  • designate a point-person to help developers understand the local and state process (if your bylaw intends for the units to count on the SHI)
  • create guidelines and/or supplemental information to educate and advise developers on how to comply and to understand alternatives offered (e.g., cash payment, etc)

Based on this investigation, I've drafted proposed amendments to Westport's Inclusionary Housing bylaw and the Planning Board is currently making its way through the process to get to Town Meeting in May.