Zoning Regulations Serve as Barrier to Creating Affordable Housing


As affordable housing becomes increasingly more difficult in major cities such as Boston, many look at the super tall towers being constructed and believe they are behind the steadily rising costs. In reality, these buildings are more of a symptom of the rising housing costs than they are the cause.

Making the Most of Available Space

As consumer demand for housing continues to rise, developers have no option but to look for ways to make the most out of the space that is available. In fact, the amount of demand for housing is what determines the overall height and size of the development. This, of course, explains why so many of the projects are so big. Unfortunately, despite the construction of these housing developments, the overall increase in housing stock is still failing to keep up with population growth. Therefore, housing prices still continue to go up.

A Simple Solution?

With such great demand for housing, it would seem that the simple solution would be to keep building more towers and residential units. If more housing is available, the price should theoretically go down. Unfortunately, it is not so easy for cities to simply build themselves out of their affordable housing issues. This is partially because so little land is available for creating new housing due to zoning regulations.

In many cities, the rules that determine who can build and where they can build it are quite antiquated. In many cases, these zoning regulations were put in place to help mitigate the perceived negative effects of skyscrapers. The regulations were also put in place to promote sunlight by keeping buildings set back from the street, to limit bulky shapes and to separate land according to various uses. For example, zoning regulations help to ensure factors are kept away from residences, thereby reducing pollution and the unsightly appearance these businesses can create.

While the initial intent of these zoning laws makes sense, they have since turned into a series of policies and programs that prevent new housing from being built. Since the rules are also intended to help preserve the value of people’s homes by ensuring the housing supply is limited within the neighborhood, they have also become a tool used by homeowners to preserve the value of their investment. Therefore, if you are already a homeowner or a landlord, zoning restrictions are beneficial. For those who are wanting to become landowners or homeowners, however, the regulations make it far more difficult and costly to find a place in the city.

With little incentive for current landowners to replace small buildings with taller ones, affordable housing is likely going to continue to be an issue. Furthermore, while it may be convenient to blame the megadevelopment down the road for the high property prices, the reality is that affordable housing opportunities are more frequently reduced by those who are fighting to keep the next megadevelopment from being built.

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