Natick's Proactive Approach to Housing Planning
Natick has taken a proactive stance towards affordable housing and meeting housing production targets: it allows for increased density of housing units in the HOOP (Housing Overlay Option Plan) and SGO (Smart Growth Overlay) districts, it completed a Housing Production Plan, a plan for Natick Center, a tiny homes study, and is actively planning for its future through its comprehensive planning effort called Natick 2030+. As of summer 2018, the Town is preparing to take updates to its affordable housing policies – centralizing and expanding their inclusionary zoning requirements under a new Inclusionary Zoning section of the Town’s Zoning Bylaw – to Fall 2018 Town Meeting. Besides its Community and Economic Development Department, Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Natick Housing Authority, the town has two committees specifically focused on housing; the Community Development Advisory Committee (CDAC) and the Natick Affordable Housing Trust Fund Board (NAHT). The CDAC supports planning and progress on planning efforts, while the NAHT is charged with supporting housing production and provision of affordable homes. The draft goals for housing in Natick 2030+ include: providing a mix of housing options at a variety of price points, preserving naturally occurring affordable housing, and supporting the housing needs of seniors and households with special needs. The town is considering implementing additional “universal design” accessibility standards for new housing, which would help to ensure that new homes are well-suited for people with different physical abilities and for all stages of the life cycle.
According to the Natick 2030+ existing conditions report on housing, between 2006 and 2015 in Natick, 361 new single family homes were built, as well as 24 new homes in 12 duplexes and 12 multifamily development projects with more than 5 homes each resulting in 708 new multifamily homes. Natick’s Smart Growth Overlay district is a 40R district that has yielded 138 new multifamily homes in Natick Center at the site of a former paperboard factory. In May 2018, Natick was a designated Massachusetts Housing Choice community, having produced 375 new homes over the last five years, meeting the program’s “Production and Planning” criteria. As of June 2018, Natick has “safe harbor” under Chapter 40B, since it is at 10.44% on its Subsidized Housing Inventory – since it’s currently over 10%, the Town can retain control over design and density standards for new development.
Public Perception of New Housing
Town officials and residents acknowledge that building and sustaining support for new housing to meet the community’s housing needs requires ongoing planning and community engagement. Market conditions are ever-changing, and challenging or validating community concerns requires measuring the impacts of development.
In 2005, at the pre-recession height of the housing market, Natick’s Paperboard factory closed, leaving behind a 7-acre parcel. The Town of Natick kicked off a public process and rezoning effort, resulting in the Smart Growth Overlay District and a 40R District designation. Even though the concept developed during the 40R public process was well-received, it took about a decade before new homes were built and available for occupancy due to legal challenges from a neighboring property owner, cleanup to contain contamination from the site’s previous industrial use, changes in property ownership, and the recession. At the same time as this development was stalled, MathWorks, a software company, expanded its facilities in Natick. All of these factors influenced the public perception of the project. For example, additional traffic near this new development is likely due to stronger economic conditions in general, and new jobs in the area at MathWorks and other companies, but some blame the new housing. The town is working to improve connections between housing and employers as a way of encouraging alternative modes of transportation in town, including new trails and pathways that connect to major employers, the Natick Mall, the commuter rail station, and other destinations. Additionally, the town is proactively examining the impact that having more local jobs may be having on the housing market; finding ways to support housing production and maintain affordability while also supporting economic development and job growth.
School enrollment has been increasing in town. To evaluate whether new multifamily development was the cause of increased school enrollment, the Town of Natick and Natick Schools reviewed enrollment and busing data to find out where new school children were coming from. This study revealed that turnover of existing single family homes was the dominant source of new enrollment.
Specific proposals from developers tend to receive opposition. When the town is able to work with the community to flesh out the general concept for a new development, generally there is buy-in and support by the time a developer is at the table.
Market conditions and demographic changes
Housing prices in Natick today, even when adjusted for inflation, exceed their 2005 values – which was the previous peak for home prices before the housing market crash that led to the Great Recession.
US Census Population Estimates indicate close to a 10% increase in the Town’s population since 2010 and close to a 5% increase the number of households. The average household size has grown during this period, likely due to more families moving into Town. Following Census 2020, the town is likely to dip below 10% on its Subsidized Housing Inventory.