The Town of Brookline makes it very difficult to build any housing and which, which as a result is not only very expensive in general but has fallen behind the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ requirement of having 10 percent of housing stock be affordable. When this happens the developers are allowed to submit proposals for housing that are streamlined, without reference to the town’s zoning code, a law called Chapter 40B.
Because of this persistent lack of affordable housing, 10 40B proposals have been filed this year and, according to The Boston Globe, the town must consider them within six months. The Zoning Board of Appeals, a volunteer body, is feeling overworked and so they have asked for a six month moratorium on new filings.
According to the letter the town’s Board of Selectmen sent to the relevant state agencies requesting the moratorium, “the temporary relief accorded a community under the so-called ‘large project’ threshold in the existing regulatory framework is presumably designed to limit the administrative burden . . . it does not work in the context of the current rush of smaller projects . . . The impacts of a development project of any size can be significant.”
In addition, the letter says that the Selectmen are concerned about the location of the proposed developments.
“It is also of great concern to us that seven of the ten projects . . . are concentrated in one Brookline neighborhood,” they wrote. “Asking a single neighborhood to shoulder this amount of development imposes an undue hardship on that neighborhood . . . We cannot that the housing advocates who originally sponsored and continue to support . . . the laudable goal of creating affordable housing in Massachusetts’ communities envisioned a situation in which one . . . neighborhood would be confronted with evaluating the impact of several projects so close in time . . .”
It is doubtless the authors of Chapter 40B ever anticipated that Massachusetts’ municipalities would be run by people so obsessed with maintaining the exclusive country club nature of their towns and their high property values that they precipitated a major housing affordability and homelessness crisis. This state did vote for McGovern, after all.
The neighborhood in question is Coolidge Corner, a vibrant, walkable and transit-oriented traditional neighborhood with a number of amenities — restaurants, shops, a movie theater and grocery stores. Not only is it walkable in itself, it is quite close to Allston Village, Brookline Village, Fenway and Longwood, which are also walkable and transit-oriented. The 66 bus runs through the neighborhood, as does the C branch of the Green Line. It’s also walkable to the 57, 39 and other buses and the B, D and E branches.
The chair of the Select Board, Neil Wishinsky, told The Boston Globe that one project, a 21 story tower was “too dense” for Coolidge Corner. “Twenty-one stories should be in the Financial District or the Seaport District, not Brookline” he told The Globe.
Of course, the whole reason Brookline isn’t as dense as the Boston neighborhoods it borders, the whole reason that they don’t have 10 percent affordable housing, the whole reason that the median home price has increased 40 percent to $1.6 million since 2010, according to The Globe, is that Brookline’s political leaders have, in common with community leaders across the country, turned the law into a club with which to keep the poor down and — even more importantly — out. Economics is not a zero-sum game and the fact is that when a suburb like Brookline uses its wealth and influence to wriggle out of allowing more housing, there are ripple effects that get back to the poor. It doesn’t matter who the consumer of the housing is. The children of a poor family that can’t move to Brookline from Boston will not receive the educational and hence employment opportunities from attending Brookline’s schools and may end up in a substandard Boston one. A wealthier family that can’t move to Brookline will end up outbidding poorer families for housing in Boston, increasing displacement and homelessness. Notice that while suburban ZBAs demand to consider the collective impact of new housing on neighborhoods, they do not want to consider the regional impact of no new housing.
One might say that it’s reasonable to suggest that a 21 story building is “too dense”, whatever that might mean, but Brookline’s leaders have objected to affordable projects in Coolidge Corner that were smaller than existing buildings! Not only that, if the concern is the impact of the development, then Coolidge Corner with its low density, its amenities and its transit is the ideal location for new, dense development. It’s a neighborhood where no newcomer will require a car to get to work or go grocery shopping. The water, sewer, electrical and telecommunications infrastructure already exists.
In its parking requirements, its design review, its open space requirements and its refusal to zone more than 18 percent of its land for multifamily housing, the Town of Brookline has systemnatically and consistently demonstrated a hostility to affordable housing that belies the lip service of the Select Board’s letter and shifts social costs on to Boston and the Commonwealth as a whole. The situation the Selectmen complain is entirely the fault of the Town’s choices and their choices alone.
They have made their mess, let them lie in it.