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FAQs

Q

I’ve heard BBD is anti-development. Is that true?

A

No. BBD realizes that growth and change are inevitable, but no town – not Brookline or any other – should be mislead into permitting un-planned, un-analyzed and poorly regulated development. BBD advocates for inclusive community participation in a thoughtful urban planning process that realistically assesses the consequences of potential outcomes to achieve shared goals around affordability, sustainability, green space and livability.

Q

I’ve heard BBD is against affordable housing. Is that true?

A

Absolutely not. We support real affordable housing, but we do not support displacement, gentrification or indiscriminate development as the means to achieve it. All of us in Brookline need to understand the consequences of zoning and development decisions, to determine how population growth can be absorbed while maintaining schools, police/fire, parks and many other municipal services, as well as infrastructure, amenities and quality of life for all who live here.

Q

Why won’t additional housing supply lead to more affordability?

A

Housing prices are determined by more supply-demand factors than the supply of homes. Not the least of these factors is the limited supply of available land, which puts the value of undeveloped land alone beyond the financial reach of many. It also begins to explain why developers regularly offer to buy houses in certain parts of Brookline for top dollar, sight unseen only to tear them down.

Rebuilding (or renovation) immediately runs into the high costs of construction labor, equipment, building materials, appliances, and electric and other infrastructure, making it painfully obvious that development – of any housing, anywhere -- is a very costly endeavor. To make a profit, developers have to build housing that will sell for more than their costs of property acquisition and development. Building and selling expensive housing is more desirable because it provides a much better return on the developers’ investment than building affordable units.

Q

What else is keeping prices high and hindering affordability?

A

With good schools, public services and green space – and its own government --Brookline is a highly desirable urban oasis surrounded on three sides by the vibrant economic hub that is Boston.  In real estate circles this feature is known as “Location, location, location” and it’s one that will keep Brookline housing prices high, without much regard to how much housing is built. And North Brookline – the favorite target of developers -- has “location” in spades. This makes Brookline housing “in demand” by literally tens of thousands from around the Boston Metropolitan Area, to Route 495 and beyond.

Q

How can workforce and other forms of affordable housing be produced in Brookline?

A

Because Brookline acreage will hold its value for as long as Boston thrives, and because North Brookline easily ranks among the most densely populated land areas in the country (40% higher than Boston’s average density), finding a suitable location to build any kind of housing is hard enough. Whether truly affordable housing realistically can be privately developed on virtually any parcel in Brookline is not debatable. True affordability requires some kind of break or subsidy – and even that may not be enough.

Furthermore, it should be quite clear that building any more housing in Brookline almost without exception requires tearing something down. Indiscriminate development has and will continue to put older and most charming housing in developers’ crosshairs, while only scratching the surface of affecting demand. (See FAQ “What else is driving the lack of affordability?” above.) These older homes tend to be more affordable to own or rent than new housing, further reducing affordable housing.

Logic and reason dictate this reality: Building more – “and more…and more” -- housing of any kind in Brookline requires immersive public input and sound urban planning to ensure goals and decisions benefiting all concerned are met.

Q

What is meant by “sustainable”?

A

There are different definitions of “sustainable” and different types of “sustainability.”

The Oxford languages dictionary defines “sustainable” in the two following ways:

  1. able to be maintained at a certain rate or level;

  2. able to be upheld or defended

In the context of municipal housing development, “sustainable” refers to avoiding depletion of resources, typically including financial/fiscal, departmental, environmental and/or ecological resources.

Q

Which approach to real estate development in Brookline will have the better chance of being more sustainable: “More…and more… and more…development” or  “…Thoughtful, community-driven urban planning”?

A

Logic and reason strongly suggest that thoughtful planning is, by far, the approach most likely to enable Brookline and its residents to sustain the budgetary, public service, environment and green-space resources that we, as a community, desire and value. Unplanned, poorly-planned or indiscriminate development runs a much greater risk of rewarding only the developers.

Q

Don’t we need mixed-use housing in our commercial corridors to achieve economic development?

A

This is a speculative concept. It is unclear whether this strategy would ever be revenue positive. Keeping older commercial spaces retains existing local businesses. Replacing or building over existing businesses is not simple and will displace current businesses.

We will see whether the concept has merit when the now-approved Harvard Street Plan is implemented. Fortunately, through the involvement of concerned citizens, the dedication of our Town Planners, diligence of Rep. Vitolo at the State House, and successful efforts by Brookline by Design to broker a deal with the Yes in Brookline coalition, the Harvard Street Plan and modifications to it will enhance its livability and commercial possibility.

Q

Does housing density lead to racial equity?

A

Upzoning to build more housing does not by itself lead to racial equity or integration. Achieving welcoming, integrated neighborhoods that are enhanced, not harmed by development, means a city must be intentional in its zoning and limit what developers can build “as of right.”

Q

The MBTA-Communities Act was hotly contested, and I’ve heard that BBD was against it. Is that true?

A

BBD was critical of the "guidelines" devised by DHCD to implement the law and the pressure to blindly approve the proposed plan without sufficient analysis of impacts or real community engagement. BBD was very concerned about the unintended consequences of implementing the original plan – including on the details of the built environment, the functionality of the plan– and the very real potential to displace our local businesses.

A

BBD supported State Rep. Tommy Vitolo’s efforts to secure modifications to aspects important to Brookline such as being able to require first-floor commercial use, increased affordability  requirements from 10% to 15%, and a lower unit-number threshold to trigger the on-site affordable mandate.

A

BBD members participated in the Select Board appointed Multi-Family Permitting Committee which was tasked with crafting an alternative way to comply with the MBTA-CA requirements. 

This committee produced a proposal that included an overlay that covered the majority of our Multi-family districts with FARs of 1.5 and above. This was a way to take advantage of the fact that Brookline has a very large and significant amount of Multi-family housing.  The Committee also proposed zoning changes to allow for several hundred additional housing units in the Emerald Island district and increased the building capacity at a Brookline Housing Authority site.

With leadership from the Select Board, BBD negotiated with Yes in Brookline to improve  certain aspects of the Harvard Street Plan to make the resulting development along he Town’s main commercial corridor more livable. These efforts enabled Brookline to comply with the MBTA-CA without sacrificing key business, historic and large commercial parcels along Harvard Street that otherwise would have been subject to redevelopment.

 

The final Plan was approved by Special Town Meeting in November 2023 to comply with the law without contentious debate. For more on this, see the Combined Reports on Article STM 4 Article 1.

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