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| 1 minute read

Apartments in the suburbs

Amy Dain’s November 2023 report on exclusionary zoning in Boston’s suburbs details how White neighborhoods either prohibited apartment buildings, or introduced discretionary approval processes that led to dead ends, in the same era as civil rights victories and passage of the Fair Housing Act. Diverse perspectives might have given rise to a less myopic vision for the suburbs.

In 1976, the Massachusetts legislature required all municipalities to pen a local growth policy statement. Many of the statements issued by Boston’s suburbs purported no need for growth, instead prioritizing maintenance of their socioeconomic status and single-family houses. This was a reversal for some of these suburbs, which previously welcomed the fiscal benefits of new apartment buildings—e.g., increased tax revenue and reduced municipal services. 

Although suburban downzoning proceeded under a rationale of curbing growth, the lack of apartments disproportionately impacted racially diverse households compared to White households. Racially diverse households, renting at a higher rate than White households, lost an important entry point to the suburbs exactly when desegregation otherwise made their move to a historically White neighborhood less unlikely. 

Even today, the Commonwealth’s non-homeownership rate is 60% for Black households compared to 30% for White households. In a time when Boston’s suburbs are again opening up to apartment buildings through the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Communities Act, perhaps homeownership will no longer be the price of entry. More fundamentally, perhaps we will see alternatives to the archetype of homeownership for families and renting for singles and empty nesters. 

Goulston & Storrs is committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the real estate communities where we practice. Starting in Boston, we launched Building Equity™ in January 2023, to help address the unique and persistent hurdles people from underrepresented groups often face in advancing development opportunities.

Multifamily housing tends to serve Black and brown people, low-income people, and young people, he points out. "If we're continuing to exclude that type of zoning, then what we have is de facto legalized segregation," [State Representative] Vargas said.


advancing dei, real estate, multifamily