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City Councilor Jake Auchincloss shared this on his email newsletter. Reprinted here with his permission.

Residents spend approximately 15% more to live in Newton than in neighboring cities and towns of Middlesex County, and one in five families earn below the living wage of $78K, according to Making Ends Meet in Newton, a report sponsored by the mayor’s Economic Growth for All initiative.

Drawing on Boston College faculty to help apply MIT’s Living Wage calculator locally, the dense 35-page study outlines how Newton-specific inflation raises the cost of living. As with most dense 35-page studies, few people are reading it. 

Here’s the summary:

Newton is prosperous, but increasingly bifurcated. The median household income of $118.6K is well above the Middlesex median of $83.5K and the U.S. median of $53.5K. There is also a relatively low percentage of residents – 5.6% – living below the federal poverty line. 

However, these standardized metrics capture neither 

(a) the high cost of living in Newton, nor

(b) the stark income inequality in the city.

Consider, for example, that

(a) for a two-adult, three-child household, the annual cost of housing is $29.5K in Newton, a 37% increase over the $21.6K for housing in Middlesex at large; and

(b) more than half of Newton’s families earn $150K+ annually, compared to just more than a quarter of families in Watertown, while the proportion of low-income families is about the same in both. In other words, Watertown has a middle class; Newton does not.

Why is Newton pricing out its middle class? Housing. 

The median single-family home costs $1.1M; the median condo costs $560K. These prices internalize superb schools, safe streets, tight-knit villages, and a relatively convenient commute to Boston. To that extent, we should take pride in the real estate market’s signal that Newton is a great place to live.

But we must also take action; housing costs have pushed the living wage to $19 an hour – a stressor embodied by the 1,200 residents who visit food pantries each month, and the 1.5K students who receive free-or-reduced-price lunch.

Housing regulations are under the purview of the city council more than the mayor’s office, and (some of) my colleagues and I have been have been pursuing three measures to reduce housing inflation:

  1. Accessory apartments. This spring, the city council voted to permit interior accessory units by right across the approximately 19,800 single- or two-family properties in Newton. These benefit homeowners, particularly seniors, by allowing them to monetize their greatest asset – their house – through rental payments while still remaining in their home. They benefit renters (even those not renting accessory units) by expanding and diversifying the city’s housing supply.
  2. Zoning code redesign. Ongoing project to update land use regulations, with the broad goal of discouraging massive houses on small lots and encouraging village-appropriate mix of single-family, multi-family, and mixed-use housing.
  3. Inclusionary zoning and village-center development. Approve mixed-use projects in village centers that increase housing supply and create affordable units.

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