One Pathway to Housing: Let’s Consider Zoning

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By  Robert  Gillis

bobgLocal town and city zoning ordinances reflect a community’s desire to maintain its character and stability. This makes sense.   None of us wants dramatic changes to our neighborhoods which could adversely affect our collective quality of life.     Zoning strategies used toward this end in our North Shore communities include increasing the minimum lot sizes upon which to build new homes and eliminating or restricting the ability to build multi-family housing.  These restrictions were also put into place to prevent excessive auto traffic, over-burdening the public schools, and stress on public works, such as sewer systems.

One consequence of these zoning restrictions is that there is an insufficient supply of new housing being built to accommodate the demand for decent, affordable housing. So, demand exceeds supply and prices go up for both apartment rentals and home ownership. Basic economics.

As housing prices accelerate, those folks among us earning less than median income have a harder time keeping up. We might not think about it, but we all know people in our communities making less than median income.   They might be our neighbors, people who wait on us in a restaurant or supermarket, or perhaps even family members. These are people who are quietly struggling to make ends meet.   They might be young families, seniors living on fixed incomes, working people, and folks with disabilities.   They are typically paying too high a percentage of their incomes than is affordable and/or live in inadequate conditions.   Exacerbating this is that, according to the Massachusetts Housing Partnership report Unlocking the Commonwealth, instead of responding to the need for housing for these folks with increased production, the state has produced less housing. In addition, there has been a shift away from multifamily housing and toward more single-family homes and larger lots. This option is out of reach for many of these families of median and lower income.

Zoning reform legislation in Massachusetts was recently introduced and passed the Senate ( An Act Promoting Housing and Sustainable Development  S.2311) but did not make it through the House of Representatives.   The issue needs to remain in the forefront in order for our communities to meet the needs of all our citizens.  Zoning is by far the most difficult hurdle to overcome when working to preserve or create affordable housing for families in our area.   The Massachusetts Housing Partnership asserts that the primary cause of the affordable housing crisis is restrictive local zoning laws.     With this in mind, Harborlight Community Partners is working with local and state leaders and housing advocates to create an impactful dialogue around local zoning.

I am proud to represent Harborlight Community Partners, an organization which has as its mission to address the housing needs of people at the lower end of the income scale. Harborlight does this well. The challenge we have is clear.   Working with great organizations like Harborlight Community Partners we really can improve the lives of many and make our communities better.

Robert J. Gillis, Jr., President

Harborlight Community Partners


About our Guest Blogger:

Robert J. Gillis Jr. is Executive Vice-President of Cape Ann Savings Bank. Bob has been with the bank for many years, and knows the Cape Ann community well. In that time, Bob has served as  president of the Rockport Rotary Club, president of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, and has served on the board of directors for the Community Land Trust of Cape Ann,  The Open Door community food pantry,    and the Cape Ann YMCA. Bob loves connecting with people and making an impact for those in need.