Inclusionary Zoning: Making Communities Work for All Families

By Shiela Y. Moore


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As a provider of emergency shelter and affordable permanent housing to families, Hildebrand Family Self-Help Center is on the front lines of both the housing and shelter crises. We are deeply concerned that some communities will choose not to comply with the MBTA Communities Act, as we’ve recently seen in Milton and several others throughout Greater Boston. 

This resistance affects families who are transitioning out of homelessness and anyone else who is seeking affordable housing in our communities. The lack of affordable housing directly contributes to the length of stay in shelter, now averaging 15 months, and the state’s spending on the shelter system. Massachusetts cannot expect to hold down the cost of shelter and resist building more multifamily housing, so we’re all in this together.

The massive housing shortage and exorbitant housing costs mean families across Greater Boston are left searching for somewhere to live that’s safe and affordable. Across the state, more than 7,500 families—the maximum that the system can hold—are currently staying in emergency shelters such as Hildebrand, and there are currently more than 700 families on the waitlist.

Families in shelters are eager to find housing, and they work closely with Case Managers and Housing Specialists in this effort to do so as quickly as possible. Yet, a shortage of housing options means finding a permanent home is increasingly difficult, and limiting housing availability with restrictive, exclusionary zoning laws only fuels this crisis. Adopting more inclusionary zoning laws in Milton—and the other towns and cities served by our MBTA system—will help open up pathways for families to move out of the cycle of homelessness.

Current residents will benefit from more housing options, too. While Milton has a high median household income—$170,531—there are many families in Milton whose incomes are significantly less. Nearly a quarter (24.4%) of households in Milton make less than $75,000/year. Further, close to 37% of Milton’s existing renters are paying more than 35% of their income in rent, meaning they are considered rent-burdened. 

Implementing more inclusionary zoning will allow for more housing options in towns and cities like Milton, making it easier for current residents to stay in the communities they already call home. With more housing options available, including units that are more affordable, lower-income-earning families won’t have to face a choice between spending a high proportion of their income on housing or leaving their communities. Teachers, restaurant workers, first responders, healthcare workers, and others who are essential to keeping our communities running will be able to live in the communities where they work. Small businesses that are vital to the local economy will gain customers and new potential employees. 

As we make decisions about the future of our communities, context is key. These zoning decisions are not taking place in a vacuum. Historically, zoning in Boston’s suburbs—including Milton—was deliberately designed to exclude families on the basis of race and class, as found in Boston Indicators’ 2023 report Exclusionary by Design: An Investigation of Zoning’s Use as a Tool of Race, Class, and Family Exclusion in Boston’s Suburbs, 1920 to Today. 

The legacy of these decisions remains today. Milton has higher incomes and housing costs than other communities in the same metro area, as well as a higher proportion of white residents and lower proportion of Black residents than contiguous communities like Mattapan. The exclusionary zoning in so many of our cities and towns not only exacerbates the housing shortage crisis, but it reinforces segregation by income, class, and race across Greater Boston.

We have the opportunity to make our communities work for all families, and adopting more inclusionary zoning will bring our communities one step closer to making this a reality in Greater Boston.

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Cambridge, MA 02139
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