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slides: The Wealthiest Towns in Central Mass

Saturday, January 19, 2013

 

Location, transportation, and school systems are putting these local towns on the map for per capita income, but Roberta Schaefer, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, says that some of these towns may be using their zoning powers to keep out the poor.

The Power of Zoning

Schaefer said that commonly in less populated towns that have a high tax base, the power of zoning comes into play to keep the “self-perpetuating cycle” going.

“Zoning allows them to do practically anything to keep out the poor,” she said. “I don’t think it’s difficult to figure out why the numbers are lower in Worcester.”

State law sets a goal of 10 percent affordable housing in each municipality, but local zoning boards still do have a say in the matter. Schaefer questioned the state of affordable housing in the top towns.

“How many actually have 10 percent? If Southborough has it, it most likely consists of senior housing and people who have downsized from their large houses,” she said. “That’s the kind of ‘affordable housing’ they’re going to have.”

Housing and building restrictions have a lot to do with the figures, she said.

“The question is what is their zoning. If they have a lot of properties that have a minimum of two acres, housing will be expensive. People won’t be able to put up a cheap house on two acres.”

n small towns with larger lots, Schaefer explained, there is a restriction on the number of people who can live there, making it more exclusive.

“Housing then effects taxation,” she said. “All these things are connected. If you’re looking at a town that doesn’t have that many people that’s on a good transportation route – and clearly all the boroughs are – it’s going to be accessible. Businesses don’t have to be there, of course.”

The Top Tier

The top fifteen towns with the highest per capita income included many of the ‘boroughs in the area. Southborough topped the list, followed by Boylston, Bolton, Harvard, Northborough, Sterling, Westborough, Princeton, Sutton, Berlin, Upton, Mendon, Grafton, Holden, and Hopedale.

These towns, Schaefer said, are feeling the effects of good transportation and the area’s booming high-tech job market.

“All of the ones in the top except for maybe Sutton are to the east of us, and clearly in the 495 orbit and benefiting from all of the development going on around there – all those high tech companies. It’s huge,” she said, adding that an area’s commuting distances will tell a lot about the income.

The Bottom of the List

The town lowest on the list was Southbridge, a city of 6,866 with a per capita income of just $21,659, and a median household income of $47,234. Fitchburg followed, then Athol, Winchendon, Gardner, Worcester, Petersham, Templeton, and Dudley.

“Places on the low end, you’re looking at older industrial cities, off the beaten path, not really situated in a place next to a place that has developed attractive business,” said Shaefer. “Lots of these are near Route 9, which out there is not a major thoroughfare. Location, location, location tells you a lot.”

Worcester: For Newcomers

Worcester fell close to the bottom, something that Shaefer explains through the city’s role as an affordable place for newcomers, and a place that supplies larger facilities like hospitals and colleges to neighboring towns.

“Diversity of the Worcester population certainly has something to do with it,” she said. “Cities are places newcomers come to, and if they do well, they move out. If they can afford to buy a house, a piece of land, if they’ve made it, they’re out of here, but there has to be a good place a newcomer can come and get started. There’s cheaper housing, and you get cheaper housing with density.”

While Shaefer said that Worcester fills the role as an affordable starting place, she added that its resources to other, wealthier towns shouldn’t be overlooked.

“One thing to point out is that with these wealthier communities, the people living there are using facilities in Worcester like hospitals and colleges,” she said. “You don’t have those in any of the towns in the top ten.”

The city of Worcester fills a large role in the area to people from high and low wealth areas.

 

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