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Mass. planners turn to 'seniors only' housing


BOSTON -- In growing numbers, Massachusetts cities and towns are putting age restrictions on residential development or favoring projects where builders agree to sell only to those 55 and older, partly in an attempt to keep families from moving into fast-growing communities and overwhelming schools with new students.

Ten communities in Eastern Massachusetts have passed laws authorizing age-restricted housing, and several more are considering such measures, according to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. And developers of state-required affordable housing projects are increasingly making their proposals "for seniors only" in anticipation of faster approval, builders say.

Currently, nearly 15 percent of all affordable housing projects in the pipeline are age-restricted, according to the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

Market-rate developments are also being successfully pitched to communities as seniors-only projects.

"It was a selling point," said Loretta Miggos, a planner in Tewksbury, where a 272-unit, seniors-only complex and golf course will soon rise on the site of the closed Tew-Mac airport.

In all, 28 communities are either imposing or encouraging age restrictions on new development, paving the way for over 5,700 homes, according to an analysis by the Globe. Non-senior housing, meanwhile, generally has a much tougher time getting approved, developers say, as towns and cities increasingly try to put the brakes on conventional growth, such as single-family homes.

Town planners and builders say they are simply responding to increased market demand, as millions of retiring baby boomers look to buy new real estate in the coming years.

But many believe that age restrictions on housing, or restrictions on the number of bedrooms per housing unit, which tend to discourage buyers with children, are also the result of a simple calculation: A family with two children moving into a town often does not pay enough in taxes to cover the cost of the expanded educational services the family requires.

Some planners welcome seniors-only housing because it is often denser than single-family home subdivisions that eat up vast tracts of land. But the long-term, regional implications of communities closing the door to families have not been considered, said planning consultant David Dixon of Goody, Clancy Associates.

"We are about to be a state with outstanding options for seniors, but not for kids. Families have got to live somewhere," Dixon said. "It's not that towns don't like kids, but they feel they can't afford them. This is a central issue that touches on municipal finance, affordable housing and education, and we appear to be stuck with dead-end systems in every case."

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