New Report on Exclusionary Zoning Touches on Age-Restricted Housing

Nov 15, 2023

As part of Boston Indicators’ new Racial Wealth Equity Research Center initiative, the organization commissioned a new report called 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.”

Based on extensive review of local planning documents, state reports, and press coverage over the past 100 years, the report finds widespread use of zoning as a tool of social exclusion against residents of color, especially Black residents; lower-income and working-class residents; families with school-aged children; religious minorities; immigrants; and, in some cases, any newcomers/outsiders at all.

In a section of the report titled “Zoning to Exclude Families with Children from Apartments,” the author states that:

“a majority of municipalities [in Greater Boston] have provisions for age-restrictions in their zoning, to encourage or require that new multifamily housing be restricted primarily to residents who are age 55 or older. Zoning
bylaws and ordinances in more than a quarter of municipalities include restrictions on the number of bedrooms allowed in multifamily housing, favoring small units that will generally not attract large families.”

The report cites a number of master plans and other documents from communities that point to perceived benefits of age-restricted housing, including reduced vehicle traffic, reduced “burden” on local schools, and a broad need for senior housing. The section of the report is essentially pointing to this zoning  and planning practice as a tool for keeping families out communities.

The Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative believes that communities, including those working to become more age- and dementia friendly, can and should promote and create affordable housing options for all ages. The need for housing is not confined to any age group and communities can push for affordable housing for older people as well as for younger individuals and families with children.