Tom Skahen, a partner with PrimeTime communities, said towns are eager to approve age-restricted projects that limit financial burdens and increase the tax base. Such properties were a minimal part of the local housing landscape before 2000.
“It is way easier to get permits for the active (senior) community,” said Skahen. “A lot of these towns are anti-kids.”
Among those with proposed age-restricted developments is the city of Methuen. There, national home builder Toll Brothers came forward with a plan to revive a failed development project to build half-a-million-dollar homes around a golf course, a plan that collapsed after only a few homes were built, leaving a field of weeds and debris.
Toll was ready to market the homes to older adults but wanted to reduce the age restriction to 50 and up. City officials insisted that buyers be at least 55. The development is still awaiting final approval.
City Councilor Joyce Campagnone said Methuen schools already struggle with a large student population. “We just don’t want to see the numbers increasing,” she said.
Some 96 towns and cities across Eastern Massachusetts offer special zoning incentives to encourage construction of new housing restricted to buyers and renters age 55 and up, according to a 2006 study by the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based research company.
Amy Dain, author of the study, believes the political landscape remains largely the same.
“It was amazing to see that so many communities are not allowing housing to be built that would be affordable and appealing to middle-class families,” said Dain, who is now at the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Changes in federal law also figure prominently in the rise of age-restricted developments.
In 1995, Congress amended the landmark civil rights-era Fair Housing Act. The change enabled developers to build age-restricted retirement communities that exclude younger buyers and children without having to include medical and nursing facilities, as previously required, said attorney Stephen Marcus, a partner with Marcus, Emmer, Errico and Brooks in Braintree.