The provision in the Housing Choices Law signed by Gov. Baker last January that requires cities and towns serviced by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (“MBTA”) to adopt a zoning ordinance or by-law that provides for at least 1 district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted by right, took a major step forward with the recent release of draft guidelines by the Department of Housing and Community Development (“DHCD”).
On January 14, 2021, Gov. Baker signed an omnibus economic development package into law as Chapter 358 of the Acts of 2021. Contained within that law were zoning reforms to better enable municipalities to adopt certain zoning measures that promote housing production by a simple majority vote of a city council or town meeting. Enactment of the so-called “Housing Choices Bill” was the highest legislative priority of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts (“HBRAMA”) for the past several years.
Included in that Act was a new multi-family zoning requirement for MBTA communities, which comprises 175 cities and towns in Eastern Massachusetts (excluding the City of Boston). New Section 3A of General Law Chapter 40A (the Zoning Act) requires that an MBTA community shall have at least one zoning district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right and meets other criteria set forth in the statute:
• Minimum gross density of 15 units per acre
• Not more than ½ miles from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station, if applicable.
• No age restrictions
• Suitable for families with children.
The Department of Housing and Community Development issued preliminary guidance to cities and towns earlier in the year. Since that time, the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and DHCD engaged in discussions with stakeholders, including the HBRAMA, to inform the compliance guidelines the law required the state to issue. The draft guidelines, a map of the MBTA communities and other helpful information about the new multi-family requirement can be found here.
The stakeholder and public engagement process will run December 15, 2021, through March 31, 2022. The Baker-Polito Administration intends to spend the next few months soliciting input and feedback from key stakeholders. The public comment period will end on March 31, 2022. Final guidelines will be issued in summer 2022. The HBRAMA will be submitting written comments and suggestions to DHCD to ensure that the new law will achieve its goals without undue cost and complexity to both local officials and multi-family developers.