Newton housing plan is all smoke, no fire

Newton mayor Setti Warren recently released the Newton Leads 2040 Housing Strategy, which seeks to address Newton’s housing affordability crisis. Warren wants to build 800 units of affordable housing by 2021. A report, prepared by the Department of Planning and Development with the consultants RKG and Sasaki, detailed the conditions.

According to the report, Newton household sizes are shrinking and home sizes are growing. Around 25 percent of Newton households contain just one person. With the majority of homes being large and single family, the median price has gone up from $755,000 in 2011 to $1.1 million.

Buying a home requires an annual income of over $200,000 and a downpayment of over $200,000 and nearly two-thirds of all condos are only affordable to homeholds making more than $101,000 a year. It’s no surprise that up to 5,092 families are paying over 30 percent of their income for their housing costs — the definition of cost-burdened.

Newton, like much of the rest of Greater Boston, also lacks “missing middle” housing, preventing young professionals from moving in and driving out almost 5,000 households making less than $125,000 a year.

However, the only policy goal in the report is that of building 800 units of affordable housing by 2021. This number is what the city would need to reach the 10 percent threshold from MGL Chapter 40B, giving it considerably more say in denying projects.

In terms of actions, the report has only two: an inclusionary development ordinance and an accessory dwelling units. Neither of those policies will solve the issues raised in the report — building 800 units of affordable housing is laudable, but it’s not going to do much on its own.

As a plan, Newton’s housing strategy is slight of hand. It looks good until one examines the details. All it does it put them in a position to be able to say no more easily and ignores the massive asset of the D-line.

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