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Old 02-09-2017, 03:03 PM   #1
Hydrobus
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Letting Working Families Build Homes

The Urban Homestead Act

This is my idea for an initiative petition to allow the smart growth we always talk about by channeling the wave of middle class angst

Summary
The Urban Homestead creates a gap in zoning restrictions to allow middle class families to build housing for themselves in the Boston area.

Housing in the Boston area is expensive. Boston is a charming, walkable city, and the economy is strong. Because of this, more and more people keep moving to the Boston area. But very little new housing is being constructed. This is because Boston and the towns around it have enacted strict zoning rules, that have basically blocked all new construction since the 1920’s. People with money have largely outcompeted middle class families from this limited housing supply. At the same time, such families are also largely shut out of affordable housing reserved for the poor.
What housing has been created is ugly, and only for the rich. Most of the construction over the past 20 years has used cheap materials that pay no homage to the existing urban fabric. Further, the construction has been luxury apartments for wealthy single people. Of these, a small percent is usually reserved for the poor, but nothing is provided for working families. Perhaps because so much new construction has been ugly and reserved for the rich, there is a huge backlash against any new construction. But this only exacerbates the housing shortage in the long term.
Housing for the middle class is being built, but it is largely in distant suburbs where families must drive everywhere. This defies the prevailing trend toward “smart growth,” housing in neighborhoods based around public transit, and now further connected by ride sharing.
The urban homestead act creates a narrow gap in the restrictive zoning, allowing middle class families to build “urban homesteads” - attractive, compact housing that blends in with the historical fabric of the neighborhood, and comports with “smart growth” principles. Housing must be compact, just big enough for the family, and it must be attractive, built of natural materials and based on existing buildings in the neighborhood. Further, it encourages housing in urban or inner suburban areas where people can use public transit.












Initiative petition

An act relative to housing relief for working families

PREAMBLE

Wheras, incomes for many jobs in the Commonwealth are stagnating,
And wheras, at the same time housing costs are very high and have been accelerating,
And wheras, at the same time, child care and health care costs are also very high, and have also been rapidly accelerating,
And wheras, there are few government programs that provide reliefe for middle class families
And wheras, because of the aforementioned conditions, the position of working people with children, has become extremely difficult,

Therefor, the following law shall be signed into law:

COMPONENTS

To MGL Chapter 40A, section 3, the following paragraph shall be added at the end:

“No zoning ordinance or by-law shall prohibit the construction of an ‘urban home stead’ as certified by the Housing Appeals Committee.”

To MGL Chapter 40B, the following section shall be added:

Section 31
Procedure for application
Any person may apply to the Housing Appeals Committee for a project to be certified as an ‘urban homestead’. The proponent of such project will mail or deliver an application packet to the Housing Appeals Committee. The packet shall contain a site plan for the urban homestead, as well as a drawing or computer rendering of the proposed front and sides of the building. The packet shall contain documentary evidence showing that the project meets the criteria detailed in subsection b of this section. The Housing Appeals Committee shall then schedule a hearing within 60 calendar days of the application. Once a hearing is scheduled, the proponents must serve the residents of all abutting properties of notice of the hearing. Notice must be served 30 calendar days before the hearing is conducted. At the hearing, the Housing Appeals Committee shall determine if the project meets the criteria as an Urban homestead. If they so determine, they shall certify the proposal as an Urban homestead by attaching a written certificate to the application, and docketing such result for their records.

b. Criteria
1 Proponent criteria
The Proponents must be A) A married couple. A marriage certificate shall be prima facie evidence of this. B) Who have at least one child under ten years old who is in both of their custody. A birth certificate for the child with an affidavit of both parents as to custody shall be prima facie evidence of this. C) Who between the two of them have filed at least six separate Massachusetts Tax returns. A photocopy of such tax return or comparable print out from the Department of Revenue shall be prima facie evidence of this. D) who, between the two of them they make between 50 and 150% of the state median income for a family with two household earners, as determined by . . . . The combination of W2 statements, federal tax returns, and an affidavit shall be prima fascie evidence of this E)Who, between the two of them, do not own any other home. F. Combinations of up to three families who each fulfill A to D above may apply jointly.

2 Site location criteria
The proponents must own the site they would like to build on, or have a lease permitting them to build there, or have a contract giving them the option to buy the property. No law or regulation limiting subdivision shall apply to such proposals. The site must be within 4000 feet of a public transit rail stop, or within 4000 feet of at least two bus lines. A print out with walking directions from a mapping web site shall be prima facie evidence of this. The site must abut at least one other residential structure.

3 Proposed structure criteria
The structure must contain less than 250 feet of total area for every family member. The structure must be clad in traditional materials including brick, stone, or wood, and shall be designed in a traditional New England style. This may be proven by showing that structure is substantially similar in appearance to a structure already in the neighborhood, within 1000 feet walking distance.

The proposed structure shall have a minimum set back of at least five feet on all sides. The structure shall have at least one parking space on site, unless it is within 4000 feet walking distance of two or more public transit rail stops. The structure shall not be more than 30 feet tall.

4 Transfer of approved project.
A couple may sell or otherwise transfer their approved project to another couple, provided the new couple also meets the criteria for such a homestead.

5 Transfer of completed project.
Onc built, an urban homestead may only be transferred to other qualifying couples, until twenty years time has passed.
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Old 02-09-2017, 05:30 PM   #2
meddlepal
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Re: Letting Working Families Build Homes

The problem is... on what land in Boston? There isn't an abundance of cheap, transit accessible, available land within the city that can support single family properties let alone be purchased by "middle class" families and then developed.

Also the whole rant against "the rich" and "luxury" unit is class war bull shit.

A better idea is a land utilization legislation / tax based on proximity to downtown and transit that offers big incentives for developers to rent or sell to residents either single or married. This would hopefully discourage foreign investment oriented properties. On the other hand foreign investment properties are not a bad thing either for the city as they generate virtually free tax dollars already.
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Old 02-10-2017, 10:50 AM   #3
bakgwailo
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Re: Letting Working Families Build Homes

This would also need to be highly subsidized - no "middle class" person/family is going to be able to afford the cost of land/plot + cost of building an entire house out of natural materials. Easily looking at 600-700k to well beyond that in just construction costs and land acquisitions. Plus, if anything, it should force at least a 2 unit structure, if not 3, which would further help the person with rental income down the line. The only people building their own homes are upper class, and this isn't exactly a new trend, either. Developers can simply do it much cheaper than an individual given scale.
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Old 02-10-2017, 12:21 PM   #4
dwash59
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Re: Letting Working Families Build Homes

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hydrobus View Post
The structure shall have at least one parking space on site, unless it is within 4000 feet walking distance of two or more public transit rail stops.
Why would you require two rail stops within 4000 feet? Why not one rail stop? Or just one bus stop?

admittedly, stations are often close together.

Oddly, your criteria could cause some properties that are next to a rail stop to not qualify while properties located half a mile from 2 rail stops would qualify.

I realize your proposal is for Boston, but the first example that pops into my head is Central Square station. If you lived above it, you would be a mile from Harvard and a mile from Kendall. So, that would require parking, but a property halfway between stations would not.
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Old 02-10-2017, 01:07 PM   #5
TallIsGood
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Re: Letting Working Families Build Homes

Remove zoning limitations on all residential properties. You'll get a lot more housing built.
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Old 02-10-2017, 05:42 PM   #6
bakgwailo
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Re: Letting Working Families Build Homes

So, I looked up some lot costs - you are maybe going to be able to get a 2.5-4k sqr ft lot for like $80-100k in the far end of Hyde Park, or the less desirable part of Dot. Most plots are going for over $100k, some even smaller than that. How much do we think building a reasonable house would cost in this market? Maybe 300k? 400k? So bare minimum we are looking at ~400k-500k at probably the cheapest to build a middle class house. Seems like a bit much - I would think that number would need to be closer to 300k all in. Also, what mortgage company is possibly going to give a loan to a middle class first home buyer to buy a plot of land and fund the construction of a house on it?
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Old 02-10-2017, 09:59 PM   #7
Joel N. Weber II
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Re: Letting Working Families Build Homes

Quote:
Originally Posted by TallIsGood View Post
Remove zoning limitations on all residential properties. You'll get a lot more housing built.
More specifically, there probably shouldn't be parking minimums in zoning laws, there probably shouldn't be any limits on the number of dwelling units per lot, height, number of buildings per lot, floor area ratios, etc in residential zones. (Although in places without sewer systems, having adequate land for a septic field may still be an issue, and that leads to the question of whether a town should be allowed to elect to not build a sewer system as a de facto density restriction mechanism.)

Having some basic zoning laws to keep industrial facilities away from residential neighborhoods is probably still appropriate.
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Old 02-11-2017, 03:19 AM   #8
TallIsGood
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Re: Letting Working Families Build Homes

Quote:
Originally Posted by Joel N. Weber II View Post
More specifically, there probably shouldn't be parking minimums in zoning laws, there probably shouldn't be any limits on the number of dwelling units per lot, height, number of buildings per lot, floor area ratios, etc in residential zones. (Although in places without sewer systems, having adequate land for a septic field may still be an issue, and that leads to the question of whether a town should be allowed to elect to not build a sewer system as a de facto density restriction mechanism.)

Having some basic zoning laws to keep industrial facilities away from residential neighborhoods is probably still appropriate.
I don't disagree with your points. I was talking about restrictions on residential, not industrial properties. While well intentioned, zoning has acted as a limited on housing production which hurts low and middle class more than the upper middle and upper class who can afford expensive homes.
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Old 02-11-2017, 06:41 AM   #9
Hydrobus
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Re: Letting Working Families Build Homes

bakgwailo, agreed, should allow 2s and 3s. Maybe this proposal would not work on costs. It would probably have to go hand in hand with a program to identify and mass manufacture several housing models. Have been looking into containerized housing a lot lately and this can be very cheap.

In terms of why plugging a narrow zoning gap rather than something broader, I think that, if we want to win, we need to have mass movement. Various groups of smart people in the state have proposed legislation to allow more construction, but it hasn't gone anywhere. We need to plug into a more basic anxiety, and sell to people who don't think a lot about zoning. And that means a really simple and clear message, and not antagonizing too many vested interests on the other side.

meddlepal, not trying to wage class war. I recognize highly paid professionals are drivers of the local economy. But there really is very little for working families. Also, I think that for people who have not thought too deeply about zoning, which is most of the population, they see that housing is too expensive and that housing for rich people is being built and they reach the *incorrect* conclusion that new luxury housing increases overall prices. And what examples do we have locally to contradict their point of view? Also, luxury construction probably DOES increase real estate values localized in that neighborhood.

dwash59, duly noted on train stop issue. Can easily reword that too address that gap. . .
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Old 02-11-2017, 10:44 AM   #10
JeffDowntown
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Re: Letting Working Families Build Homes

This concept is flawed in so many ways.

In a growing, land locked city, the last type of housing unit we need is single family homes. That is kind of like trying to solve traffic congestion with more single occupancy vehicles.

Places like Brazil do this. The result Favelas:



These are created by exactly the kind of urban homesteading you are suggesting. Not everyone is a master builder, as is evident by the construction quality.
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Old 02-11-2017, 02:36 PM   #11
novitiate
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Re: Letting Working Families Build Homes

Encouraging the construction of detached small single-family houses (with parking?!) near rail stops seems like exactly how you get a housing crisis in the long run?
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Old 02-19-2017, 06:41 PM   #12
tangent
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Re: Letting Working Families Build Homes

Seems the better question is whether the city (and close surrounding cities near public transportation) have by right zoning for triple deckers on the prevailing size (ANR) lots. That is how you get more housing by saving the speculative 10% or 15% that would otherwise be spent on lawyers in pursuit of special permits and variances.
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