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October 27, 2013

KIDS KEEP OUT

Cities, towns bar families, welcome empty-nesters

This spring, developer Jim Williamson came up with a sure-fire way to calm some residents’ concerns about a proposed 174-unit housing complex in Walpole: Discourage families with children from moving in.

Williamson told town officials that his project would include only one- and two-bedroom homes, not the three-bedroom units that are more suited for families with school-aged children. His reason was simple: additional children can strain the resources of schools and increase operating costs, something town officials had made clear they were concerned about.

“We are trying to do the right thing for the town,” said Williamson, a spokesman for the Framingham-based company Barberry Homes. “One way to minimize impacts is try not to have too many school-age children.”

Williamson’s decision to cut out three-bedroom homes is one that is made over and over in Massachusetts, driven by town officials and residents who fear that additional pressures on schools will stretch already strained budgets.

In a tight housing market, officials across the Bay State deploy an array of tactics to discourage modestly priced new apartment and home construction for families. These include pressuring developers to drop plans for three-bedroom apartments and crafting zoning regulations to encourage the construction of over-55 housing developments that ban children.

The result is that many middle- and working-class families are finding the equivalent of “No Vacancy” signs in Bay State towns and cities amidst growing resistance to new homes, condos and apartments that might bring in school children.

“The bias against multi-family housing and school children from rental properties is enormously strong,” said John Connery, a long-time Melrose-based housing consultant who works with communities and developers.

The conflict is heating up again as the Massachusetts housing market rebounds from a crisis that began in 2005 and stalled development and depressed prices statewide.

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