The Honorable James J. O’Day, House Chair
The Honorable Rebecca L. Rausch, Senate Chair
Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government
State House, Boston

Dear Chair O’Day, Chair Rausch, and Distinguished Members of the Committee,

On behalf of cities and towns across the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to express our concern with several bills before the committee today, specifically H. 1761, An Act Promoting Cluster Residential Development; H. 1797, An Act Relative to Smart Growth Multifamily Housing Production; H. 1801, An Act Providing for Safe Subdivision Ways; S. 1170, An Act Relative to Zero Parking Development; and S. 1191, An Act Relative to Transit-Oriented Development.

We believe that any reform to state zoning laws must contain strong protection of local decision-making authority, and we strongly oppose bills that contain “by-right” language or mandates that would override zoning by-laws that have been established by citizens and their elected and appointed leaders.

In contrast, H. 3507, An Act to Promote Housing Choices, currently before the Joint Committee on Housing, rightly rejects a top down, one-size-fits-all approach. This bill would make it easier for communities to enact local zoning changes that encourage housing development, by allowing housing-related zoning amendments and special permits to be approved by a simple majority of the local body, rather than the two-thirds supermajority currently required by state law. By preserving the role of the people, the bill would maintain hometown democracy and ensure that citizens retain their voice.

The MMA Board of Directors unanimously endorsed the Act to Promote Housing Choices last session, and joined with a diverse coalition of groups responsible for building housing, including the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, and NAIOP – The Commercial Real Estate Development Association to support the bill and testified in support of the bill before the Joint Committee on Housing at its May 14 hearing.

Ever since Massachusetts was founded, zoning decisions have been determined by the residents of our communities – by the citizens and voters. Local officials may propose changes, but these proposals must receive the approval of the residents. In the vast majority of cases, these decision-makers are volunteers, regular citizens attending a Town Meeting in a Town who receive no pay or stipend, or volunteers elected as councilors who spend hundreds of hours a year making decisions that impact neighborhoods across their communities.

Rather than mandates, local officials and community leaders need resources, tools, incentives and flexibility. Right now, cities and towns across Massachusetts are pioneering innovative and bold approaches to housing issues. Unlike the “by-right” mandate language found in H. 1761, H. 1797, H. 1801, S. 1170, and S. 1191, the Housing Choices Act (H. 3507) is a necessary tool to help cities and towns to produce more housing. We need this measure now so that we can build on that success and continue to work on the housing challenges that Massachusetts is facing.

We respectfully ask you to consider the countless problems that would be created in neighborhoods across Massachusetts if state government moves forward with a flawed approach mandating a one-size-fits-all, state-dictated, top-down zoning law. By far the best solution is to empower cities and towns with an easier path to shape their zoning and facilitate housing production that works and is sustainable at the neighborhood and local level. That is why we support H. 3507, and ask you to oppose the measures before your Committee today.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Senior Legislative Analyst Brittney Franklin at 617-426-7272 at any time.

Thank you very much.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO