The Honorable Eric Lesser, Senate Chair
The Honorable Ann-Margaret Ferrante, House Chair
Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies
State House, Boston

Dear Senator Lesser, Representative Ferrante, and Distinguished Members of the Committee,

On behalf of cities and towns across the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to share our support for H. 4529, An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth, which is before your committee for public hearing today. The economy of Massachusetts is only as strong as the economies of its cities and towns, and we appreciate your work and ongoing partnership to craft legislation that helps realize the economic potential of all communities across the Commonwealth.

Zoning Reform
The MMA continues to enthusiastically support the Baker-Polito Administration’s Housing Choices Act, the language of which is included in this bill, as amended by the Joint Committee on Housing when the committee favorably reported out the bill last December (H. 4263). These provisions 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. Reducing the approval vote to a majority would bring powerful and meaningful change that would facilitate zoning changes for the production of housing while maintaining hometown democracy and ensuring that citizens retain their voice.

Along with the MMA, these changes have support from 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. We would like to see the provisions in this bill passed without divisive or weakening amendments that would impose state-set zoning standards, override local decision-making, or create new avenues for costly and unnecessary litigation.

Housing Production, Neighborhood Stabilization, and Community Development
There are a number of key provisions in this bill that would help to support a wide range of housing production, neighborhood stabilization and community development initiatives throughout the Commonwealth. We strongly support the investments targeting affordable housing production in transit-oriented and climate-resilient locations. We know that addressing the current housing crisis in the Commonwealth involves addressing housing-related issues from a variety of angles. That is why we were excited to see the capital authorization targeted to development in rural and small towns and neighborhood stabilization to help return blighted and vacant housing back to productive use included in this bill.

Additionally, this bill would build on and provide added flexibility in two successful programs, the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) and the Transformative Development Initiative (TDI). We strongly support the expansion of the HDIP program to include similarly situated communities and raising the HDIP annual cap from $10 million to $30 million. We also support the added flexibility for TDI fellows, allowing collaboration with neighboring cities and towns.

The above measures, coupled with the zoning reform provisions, would help communities solve housing-related challenges throughout the Commonwealth. We applaud the Administration for recognizing that true progress in these areas can only be achieved when the state and its cities and towns work together as partners.

Procurement
The MMA supports the technical changes presented in this bill related to the Uniform Procurement Act. These changes would allow procurement officers to select consultants on a qualitative basis for projects that fall under the lower dollar threshold rather than awarding a contract to whomever offers the lowest price. There are a number of services that do not meet the higher dollar threshold for the formal RFP process in Section 6, but require the flexibility of a qualifications-based award nonetheless. This technical change would fix an unforeseen consequence of the 2016 Municipal Modernization Act.

Summary
We know that you and your colleagues in the Legislature are committed and dedicated to building a strong, healthy and thriving Massachusetts economy, and we respectfully ask you to embrace the strongest possible bill to support economic growth in our communities. The municipally focused measures outlined above would bring real growth and opportunity to our cities and towns and support the residents and businesses of the Commonwealth, and we urge you to include these provisions in your final bill.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Senior Legislative Analyst Brittney Franklin at bfranklin@mma.org at any time.

Thank you very much.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO