Baker-Polito Administration Files New Housing Legislation to Increase Housing Production in Massachusetts

Legislation will enable communities to pursue sustainable housing development and support the administration’s goal to produce 135,000 new housing units by 2025

Photo by William Zhang

Today, Governor Charlie Baker filed legislation to further the administration’s Housing Choice Initiative, a bold plan to support the production of 135,000 new housing units by 2025. This bill builds on efforts undertaken last legislative session to deliver necessary, targeted zoning reform to benefit communities pursuing new housing production.

The Baker-Polito Administration developed the Housing Choice Initiative to offer a combination of incentives, technical assistance, and new capital grant funding to facilitate community-led housing production across the Commonwealth. This diverse set of tools for communities is intended to create the conditions for a sustainable housing development that meets the needs of current and future residents.

“Today, we have more people working in Massachusetts than at any time in our Commonwealth’s history, and the need for substantially increased housing production –for residents across the income spectrum – is necessary to match Massachusetts’ booming economic growth,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “This legislation is critical, will unlock the potential of our cities and towns committed to responsible growth, development and enacting best practices in sustainable housing production and we are committed to working with stakeholders and our partners in the legislature to make it a reality.”

“The Commonwealth’s cities and towns are eager to meet the needs of their residents and we are thrilled that 69 communities have already received a Housing Choice Community designation, showing their commitment to housing production,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “This legislation is the next step in fulfilling our commitment to Massachusetts residents, creating the conditions for all of our families and individuals to live, work, and thrive across the state.”

When the Baker-Polito Administration first unveiled the Housing Choice Initiative in 2017, in addition to the changes proposed through legislation, the comprehensive initiative also created a new system of incentives and rewards for municipalities to deliver sustainable housing growth by designating communities that are producing new housing units and have adopted best practices with a new “Housing Choice Communities.” It also created a new technical assistance toolbox empowering cities and towns to plan for new housing production.

Since the Housing Choice Initiative program’s inception, the Baker-Polito Administration has awarded $5 million in capital funding to 31 communities, and with its partnership with MassHousing, 14 communities have received technical assistance to advance the production of more than 4,000 new housing units.

The bill filed by the Governor today mirrors the legislation filed by the Governor in the last legislative session and includes changes made by the legislature in House Bill 4290 An Act to Promote Housing Choices.

This proposal will enable cities and towns to adopt certain zoning best practices related to housing development by a simple majority vote, rather than the current two-thirds supermajority. This legislation will not mandate cities and towns to make any of these zoning changes; but will allow municipalities that want to rezone for denser, transit or downtown oriented, and new housing development to do so more easily.

Zoning changes that promote best practices for housing growth that would qualify for the simple majority threshold include:

  • Building mixed-use, multi-family, and starter homes, and adopting 40R “Smart Growth” zoning in town centers and near transit.
  • Allowing the development of accessory dwelling units, or “in-law” apartments.
  • Approving Smart Growth or Starter Homes districts that put housing near existing activity centers.
  • Granting increased density through a special permit process.
  • Allowing for the transfer of development rights and enacting natural resource protection zoning.
  • Reducing parking requirements and dimensional requirements, such as minimum lot sizes.

This legislation also includes a provision, added by the Joint Committee on Housing, that would reduce the voting threshold for a special permit issued by a local permit granting authority to a simple majority vote, for certain multi-family or mixed-use projects with at least 10% affordable units in locations near transit or, in centers of commercial activity within a municipality.

Massachusetts is currently one of only a few states to require a supermajority to change local zoning.

“We have an incredible economy here in Massachusetts, capitalizing on our talented workforce, thriving innovation ecosystem,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. “Attracting and retaining talent – including the Commonwealth’s newly graduated students, young families, and workforce – continues to be a paramount concern. This legislation is an important step in ensuring Massachusetts cities and towns can create welcoming communities that leverage their existing assets, like thriving downtowns and vital transportation hubs.”

“Since launching our Housing Choice Initiative, we have provided technical assistance and access to new capital grant funding to numerous communities committed to housing production,” said Housing and Community Development Undersecretary Janelle Chan. “This legislation is a necessary component to our overall effort to encourage and support municipalities and, together, pro-actively move high-quality projects forward to address our current and growing need for new housing in Massachusetts.”

“There is perhaps no more critical issue impacting Massachusetts’ cities and towns today than the issue of housing. Like many communities in Greater Boston, Salem is witnessing a sharp decline in the affordability and availability of housing for people who live and work here. We are fortunate to have a city that has a rich mix of people from different backgrounds, income levels, cultures, and more. That diversity contributes to the character of our community in a meaningful way and is a part of our nearly 400-year-old history. However, the current housing crisis is threatening that character as, too often, the many faces of Salem – seniors on fixed incomes, working families, young adults – all are finding our city increasingly unaffordable. We want Salem to continue to be a place that people of all means can call home. While we are pushing for policies and investments on the local level to address this growing challenge, we need a strong partnership with state leaders to advance legislation, including Housing Choice, that can make these reforms possible in the first place. I am proud to stand with Governor Baker and other advocates for sensible, compassionate housing policy, to ensure that Salem can be home for anyone,” said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll.

“Easthampton’s designation as a Housing Choice community gave our city access to multiple tools that unlocked long-standing impediments to growing our housing stock and encouraging mixed-use development. This designation allowed our city to vertically stack grants and economic incitements. Our ability to leverage public dollars to attract private investment makes tangible the vital connection between housing, jobs and sustainable smart growth,” said Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle.

“Creating more housing choices requires local communities across the Commonwealth to be creative and adaptable. It also requires an approach that’s appropriate for each individual community. That’s what makes the Housing Choice Initiative such a great approach. It gives every community new tools, from grant opportunities to technical assistance to best practices, that allows each to craft plans that make sense locally while at the same time helping address the overall housing challenge,” said Cohasset Town Manager Christopher Senior.

“This important legislation will provide communities with vital tools and authority to address our housing production needs,” said Massachusetts Municipal Association Executive Director Geoff Beckwith. “We applaud the Baker-Polito Administration for recognizing that true progress in making housing more affordable can only be achieved when the state and cities and towns work together as partners. This bill embraces that partnership, and the MMA looks forward to working with all coalition partners to bring meaningful zoning reform that respects local decision-making across the finish line.”

“We can’t confront our housing and climate crises without local zoning changes, so we hope to see the Legislature fast-track this bill in 2019,” said André Leroux, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance. “Thanks to the Governor’s support and the work of the Joint Committee on Housing, it also includes a key reform to encourage developers to build more of the affordable homes that our state desperately needs.”

“Housing Choice needs to pass, preferably over the next few months, before town meetings start in the spring,” said Marc Draisen, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). “The bill would really help cities and towns to amend zoning and issue permits that will boost housing production. The legislation was thoroughly vetted in the last session, so MAPC hopes it can pass quickly this time around.”

“Passage of the Housing Choices Bill is our top priority,” said Hunter Marosits, Vice-President of H and R Homes Remodeling, Inc. in Wilbraham and President of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts. “Making it easier for communities to adopt zoning for housing will benefit young couples seeking to buy their first home, growing families looking to trade up, and downsizing baby boomers wishing to live near their children and grandchildren.”

“The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce applauds Governor Baker for his continued focus on remedying the Commonwealth’s housing shortage, and we are pleased to see the Administration’s Housing Choice bill back on the legislative track,” said James E. Rooney, President, and CEO of the GBCC. “The rising cost of living in Greater Boston is a critical issue impacting our regional and economic competitiveness. Governor Baker’s proposal would take meaningful steps forward by increasing workforce housing development and rewarding that development with potential transportation investments, two initiatives that are strongly supported by the business community. We are eager to see this bill advance, and quickly.”

“The state’s housing crunch is not just a Boston problem, but also a suburban problem. The legislation will help communities allow the type of housing in the right area that helps promote community stability and economic growth. It is as much an economic development bill as it is a housing bill,” said Peter Forman, President & CEO of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce.

“We know the vast majority of people age 50 and older want to stay in their homes and communities for as long as possible. With the Housing Choice bill, Governor Baker is again taking steps to help Massachusetts residents age in place. This bill allows for the development of new housing models, promotes accessory dwellings, and encourages construction in areas and neighborhoods that have accessible resources,” said Mike Festa, State Director of AARP Massachusetts.

The Baker-Polito Administration has shown a deep commitment to increase the production of housing across income levels. Since 2015, the administration has invested more than $1 billion in affordable housing, resulting in the production and preservation of more than 17,000 housing units, including 15,000 affordable units. In 2018, Governor Baker signed the largest housing bond bill in Massachusetts history, committing more than $1.8 billion to the future of affordable housing production and preservation. The Baker-Polito Administration has also advanced the development of more than 7,000 mixed-income housing units through the successful MassWorks Infrastructure Program, reformed the Housing Development Incentive Program, and worked with communities to implement smart-growth development and planning efforts.


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