Housing Shortage in Medfield!

At the Medfield State Hospital Master Planning Committee meeting last night Ralph Costello shared with me the piece below he wrote on the housing shortage in town.  Ralph is an experienced local high end real estate developer (Unique Homes, Woodridge Road, and Old Medfield Square), who seems quite thoughtful about our local market, its needs, and creating curb appeal.  Professionally he has been building homes for our residents for decades, and now he is sharing his learned on our local  market expertise with the MSH-MPC.

His Old Medfield Square is the paradigm I point to as showing how “housing” can be the new “business of Medfield,” as when fully completed Old Medfield Square will profit the town about $500,000 a year.  When completed the 42 units will generate about $600,000 a year in real estate taxes, yet cost the town only about $50,000 a year in the costs of municipal services, primarily because there are few residents opting to live there who have school children – there was only one school child in the first 27 units that were occupied.

Therefore, I see building the right sort of housing as Medfield’s way to both generate new tax revenues and to reduce existing tax bills, because we know that we are a desirable residential community, and yet we do not seem to be a choice for businesses and commercial uses.

Here is Ralph’s article:

Housing Shortage in Medfield!

Housing shortages exists when the demand for housing or certain types of housing exceed the available supply at affordable prices. For a number of years this has been the state of housing in Medfield. Essentially, demand for housing can be broken down into four distinct demographic groups: Baby boomers (born 1946 -1964), Generation X (born 1965 -1982 ) Generation Y-Millennials, ( born 1982 -1998) and Seniors (age 65 and over) with each group looking for something different in size, space, lifestyle, amenities, and price.

In the last 40 years real estate development in Medfield has been almost exclusively single family homes which have been purchased by the baby boomer generation and generation X . Single family homes were built for these groups on land subdivided into % acre, 1 acre or 2 acre lots creating the many enclave neighborhoods that make up most of the housing stock in Medfield. This type of housing filled the need for both baby boomers and generation X. They wanted to raise families in safe, quiet neighborhoods. They wanted 4-5 bedrooms, multi-bath homes, two and three car garages, sidewalks, good size yards, swing sets and swimming pools. And, they wanted the best education for their children. Medfield’s commitment to quality schools was a great attraction.

Four decades of land planning and home designs that focused solely on single family homes, and the preferences and lifestyle of the demographic groups with growing families resulted in an abundance of available housing options for baby boomers in years past and currently for the growing families of generation X, but it has left a short supply of suitable housing for the remaining demographic groups: seniors, millenials and ironically, baby boomers who now want to downsize into smaller homes. For these groups housing in Medfield is now quite inadequate.

This leads us to ask some important questions as a community. What type of housing is needed for these groups? Is there affordable land available and is it zoned for this kind of housing? And finally, why is it necessary and important for Medfield to have adequate housing for these residents?

Type of housing needed in Medfield

The types of housing needed to respond to the needs of our citizens is a function of the changing needs of specific demographic groups.

Baby Boomers (76 Million nationally, 51 – 69 years old) want to simplify their lives by downsizing to smaller homes with 1800 sq. ft. to 2400 sq. ft. with a 2 car garage, one level living with a master bedroom and bath on the first level, a minimum of 2 additional bedrooms which can be located on the first floor or second floor. Bedrooms are important as they want to have friends, family, children, and grandchildren visit and stay overnight. Boomers also want an open


floor plan with the kitchen, dining area and great room side by side without separating walls. And, they want a private outside space for gardening. They are also looking for maintenance free homes. A higher density of homes (6-8 units per acre) is perfectly acceptable to baby boomers if the site plan includes ample open space.

Generation X (32 – 50 years old), now the growing family generation is taking over where the baby boomers left off. They are now occupying the 4-5 bedroom single family homes in neighborhoods and have a choice of many housing options. There is no housing shortage here!

Seniors (65 years or older) want much the same as baby boomers with emphasis on one level living. The large number of seniors who are still working, or retired but mobile and active, need housing that supports their independent lifestyle. These homes can be more compact with 1200 sq. ft. to 2,000 sq. ft., 2- 3 bedrooms and 1 or 2 car garages. A density of 6-10 units per acre works for this group if there is a private outside space or access to a walkable open space. Some seniors who can no longer live independently are in need of assisted living housing.

Generation Y – Millennial (80 million nationally, 18 to 30 years old) want one or two bedroom apartment or condo living with anywhere from 800 sq. ft. to 1400 sq. ft. of living space, with adequate parking for one or two vehicles. Millennial want to be mobile and not tied to the place they live, with a good 80% wanting to live in an urban setting. Changes in jobs, travel, and putting off marriage keeps them on the move. Convenient access to public transportation , retail shops and opportunities to socialize with other millenials is important. Higher densities are possible with this group (10 – 25 units per acre).

Is there affordable land available and is it zoned for this kind of housing?

The housing shortage in Medfield did not happen overnight. For decades the low density zoning regulation of 1-2 units per acre only permitted development of homes on large lots with grids of expensive streets and utilities. This drove up the cost of land and depleted the developable land at a greater rate. Today, the amount of privately owned land that could be developed is close to nonexistent. Medfield has become a “mature market” where there are no large privately owned parcels available, and only a small number of single lots vacant. Land prices are now to the point where homes are being torn down for the lots they sit on! The short supply of land has kept new home construction low and prices high, making Medfield unaffordable for many.

The land at Medfield State Hospital is the only large track of land where a portion of it could be allocated and re-zoned for different housing types.

Why is it important for Medfield to have adequate housing for its residents?

Another important change has taken place in the last 25 years: As the real estate market in Medfield changed and matured, baby boomers matured along with it. The baby boomers have


driven markets for everything from diapers and baby food in the 1940s. 1950s, and 1960s to housing choices in the last four decades. They are now in another phase of life, and along with seniors, want smaller homes to suit new lifestyles. They no longer need or want the large homes and lots, and the big tax bills that go with them. Their children have moved from the family home, attend college or live independently on their own. Households without children are at an all-time high, accounting for over 70% of the population.

Most longtime residents think of Medfield as home! They raised their families here, established friendships, and enjoyed the comfort and friendliness of living in a small town. And, more often than not, their children, grandchildren and extended families live locally. So, they want to downsize, stay in Medfield and continue to be part of the community. Seniors also need housing for an independent life style and the option of assisted living housing if they are to stay in Medfield.

Lack of adequate housing has already forced many to relocate out of Medfield. This is confirmed by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council statistics which show a 25 year net outmigration for baby boomers, seniors, and the generation Y population.

This generational flight from Medfield is not a temporary problem. It will continue if we don’t respond to our changing housing needs. It is imperative that we act now to ensure that different generations will be able to live side by side with family, friends, and children in a community they call home.


2 responses to “Housing Shortage in Medfield!

  1. Pete, Ralph,…Great background, great article, and a great conclusion – thank you…As Seniors (definitely), we would love to stay in Medfield, but in a smaller house with fewer floors, much more suited to aging knees, all while converting some of our wonderful Medfield household equity to retirement cash….Our guess is that there are many like us, and having MSH convert part of its property to “Senior Housing” at sensible prices would be would be well received…Best and thanks,…Ancelin and Jack Wolfe


  2. I am a boomer who would picture my wife and I living at MSH (especaily when it has a different name!) with access to open space, but much smaller personal space that we have today in one of Ralph’s neighborhoods. I agree the demand is there for people like us to say in Medfield. Thanks for the article.


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