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Needham Passes New Housing Plan To Help Build, Preserve More Affordable Units

Needham Town Hall

The Boston suburb of Needham sees housing affordability as one of its top challenges, but a newly approved plan could help it build and preserve more residential units. 

The Needham Select Board on Tuesday evening unanimously voted in support of the town’s new housing plan. Officials see the plan as a starting point, as it lays out 17 recommendations for zoning and development policies that would need to be passed separately. 

"I support the plan as its comes together, but I want to note that this is not a housing production plan," Needham Select Board Chair Marianne Cooley said at the meeting. "The challenge for people everywhere to understand is the work is yet to come."

The plan was created by the Needham Housing Plan Working Group, which was formed over a year ago to help preserve and produce housing. The group is made up of housing advocates, Needham Planning Board members, and Select Board Members Marcus Nelson and Heidi Frail.

"The housing plan has a lot of really great suggestions and things we can work on moving forward," Frail said.

The plan breaks down into three categories: zoning strategies, housing development and preservation strategies, and capacity building strategies. 

The recommendations include expanding multifamily zoning to comply with the state's new MBTA Communities law and adopting townwide inclusionary zoning, which would require at least 12.5% of units in a project with six or more units to be reserved for subsidized housing. The plan also proposes preparing an inventory of public land and privately owned sites that could be targets for housing development. 

Needham, with a population of 32,000 across nearly 13 square miles, benefits from transportation accessibility with four MBTA commuter rail stops, a bus that connects to the Green Line and highway exits from Route 128 and Route 9. But it has struggled with high housing costs that have made it harder to keep residents in the town, the housing plan said. 

"Young adult children of Needham families typically find it impossible to afford housing here, particularly if they have a disability," the plan says. "Many households, especially older adults with fixed incomes, find that remaining here imposes increasingly unbearable cost burdens. Mobility within Needham is limited as 'empty nesters,' even those with good incomes and substantial home equity, find downsizing to housing with accessibility and services a choice that is largely unavailable at reasonable cost." 

The town had planned on Tuesday to discuss its ongoing partnership to purchase land along the Charles River that would include developing housing, the Boston Globe reported in September, but due to approvals it is still waiting on, the hearing was postponed. 

The town is partnering with Concord-based Northland Residential on the purchase. In the partnership, the town would spend $2.5M for two 3-acre lots on Charles River Street and half of the 58-acre Castle Farm property. Northland will buy the remaining 28 acres for $18.5M. Fourteen of those acres are planned to be developed into housing.

Affordable housing production has been a statewide issue for years. In Boston, Mayor Michelle Wu has taken steps to bring more affordable housing to the city, including lowering the thresholds on policies like inclusionary development and linkage fees, as well as proposing rent stabilization.