Almost All of Somerville’s Homes Are Illegal

Under its own current residential zoning laws.

Vox, king of the explainer article, has a new subject under the microscope today: the city of Somerville. In a post this morning (later linked to by the city’s own Twitter account), writer Matthew Iglesias points out that under the city’s own current zoning regulations, only 22 of the structures in the city fit zoning regulations. The information comes from a report the city itself released exploring its zoning issues. The site City Observatory goes into more detail about just what’s wrong with it:

…in a city of nearly 80,000 people, there are exactly 22 residential buildings that meet the city’s zoning code. Every single other home is too dense to be legal: Either it takes up too much of the lot, or it has too many homes, or it’s too tall, or it’s not set far back enough from the street, and so on. (Note that this calculation actually doesn’t include parking requirements, which might very well do away with those last 22 conforming buildings.)

The city is currently trying to overhaul its zoning regulations to make them a bit more 2016-friendly, but in the meantime, despite the zoning issues, it’s doing pretty well for itself. But maybe we shouldn’t get too carried away with how great Somerville is. According to the Vox article, if the rest of the state were populated at the same rate, 200 million people would live in Massachusetts. Take that, Electoral College! Though we have to take some issue with the characterization of Somerville as a “nice town” by Vox and “an inner-ish ring suburb of Boston” by City Observatory. Come on, guys. It’s a city with its own identity. Just look at it making this list of awesome bird’s-eye pictures on Buzzfeed! Quite the big day in national media for the city (yes, city) of seven hills.