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New England: Hotbed for housing snobs?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 6, 2013 10:31 AM

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Housing snobs rule the roost, not just in Greater Boston, but across New England.

Driven by absurd fears and misconceptions, towns across the region are using arcane zoning rules to block anything that deviates from the norm of the big (and prohibitively expensive) suburban house on the big lot.

That means throwing fits over developers looking to build modestly-sized homes that might be more affordable middle-income families, or, horrors, apartments.

And not surprisingly, home prices remain a stretch for families earning the median wage, not just in Greater Boston, but across New England.

So argues local journalist Lisa Prevost in her new book, "Snob Zones," which takes a deep look at some of ugly prejudices and fears that are driving opposition in towns across the region to new housing of just about any kind.

Prevost nicely connects the overarching trend of an ever more expensive housing market with a series of profiles of New England towns determined to bar all but the most costly single-family homes.

In Massachusetts, Prevost focuses on Easton. The upscale town next to Brockton, rejected cottage-style homes, with neighborhood opponents arguing the 1,000 square foot homes, would create a "mini ghetto" and a "glorified trailer park."

No matter that the developer had hoped to sell the market-rate units for $250,000 to $340,000.

It certainly lines up with what I have seen as business reporter, having spent years writing about real estate and development in the Boston area and across the region.

In fact, I'd argue that we are really dealing with more than housing snobs - housing bigots is a much more accurate term in my view.

Prevost certainly looks at the dark underside of NIMBYism, New England style, and the tendency to look at any housing proposal that has the word "affordable" as some sort of ghetto style public housing project.

The reality could not be more different. Most so-called 40-B projects - named for a state law that gives additional leverage to developers who include a few units of lower-cost housing - are made up mainly of market-rate rentals, condos or town homes.

If that's your idea of a section 8 project, you need a reality check.

Here's a quote from Prevost's book that is right on target.

"Even though the workforce housing of today bears no resemblance to the public housing highrises of the past - the poster child being Chicago's notoriously crime-ridden Cabrini-Green - local opposition is still one of the greatest impediments to its construction."

OK, so what's your take?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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