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Zoning for More Housing in Lowell

This 39-page report responded to a summer 2020 motion from Lowell, MA City Councilors to detail ways to modify the City’s zoning ordinance to create more housing. Jared authored this report in October 2020, prior to departing Lowell for the City of Alexandria, VA. The Lowell City Manager released the report publicly in March 2021, so Jared is publishing it here as part of of his portfolio. The report addresses topics like parking minimums, missing middle housing, accessory dwelling units, incentive programs, and other dimensional requirements.

Boott Mills in January 2019. © Jared Alves

Excerpt from the Introduction

We last overhauled the City’s Zoning Code in 2004. The world has changed considerably since then, and the need for housing—in both number and type—has changed too. This report provides a menu of zoning changes that the Council could adopt to increase housing availability in the City. Draft ordinances are ready for some of these ideas and we are ready to explore all in further detail as directed by the Zoning Subcommittee and the full City Council.

The recommendations in this report come from years of saying no: to the family who wants to build an in-law apartment for their aging grandparent, to the owner who wants to add an attic apartment to offset the cost of their mortgage, and to builder who wants to turn a vacant lot into a new home. To start saying yes, we need to debate and discuss the over 20 ideas in this report to use zoning to increase housing…

Zoning cannot undue the decades of disinvestment in public housing by the Federal Government. However, we cannot begin to solve our housing crisis without reevaluating our regulations and determining which ones are unnecessarily stymying change. When we allow more housing, we will be inviting more neighbors into our city. These neighbors will be customers at our restaurants, entrepreneurs who create jobs, and they will be eyes on the street to keep our city safe. We are not actively denying housing in Lowell to those who can afford our prices. However, we have a moral obligation to ensure our zoning does not raise those prices to heights where we lose the rich multi-cultural and socioeconomic diversity that makes Lowell the city we love.

The full report is available below:

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