Baker administration unveils ‘Housing Choice’ legislation, grant program

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Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito today unveiled the administration’s new housing initiative, a combination of legislation and a new grant program.
The “Housing Choice Initiative” is designed to build on progress being made by cities and towns in the housing field, while providing more tools and flexibility for municipal leaders.
The primary component of the legislation would reduce the two-thirds voting threshold to a simple majority for cities and towns looking to enact policies laid out in a set of best practices established by the administration.
This change would apply only to municipalities looking to enact specific zoning changes, which include:
• Zoning for multifamily and cluster development
• Establishing by-right zones for accessory apartments (contingent on meeting local health and safety standards)
• Allowing for transfer of development rights
• Reducing parking and dimensional requirements, such as minimum lot sizes
As part of the initiative, the Department of Housing and Community Development will be changing the way it interacts with municipalities, creating a single portal for coordinated access to programs, grants and technical assistance across multiple agencies.
“Our growing economy demands a robust and diverse supply of housing to support the Commonwealth’s continued growth and success,” said Gov. Baker. “This initiative will maximize collaboration between state agencies, support innovation and data-driven policies, and provide municipalities with the user-friendly tools needed to create more housing where it’s needed. We look forward to working with the Legislature and partnering with cities and towns to deliver much-needed housing to regions across Massachusetts, while respecting our long-standing home rule tradition.”
The administration plans to provide for more than $10 million in incentives annually, through a combination of new grant funding and technical assistance. These incentives are intended to enable Massachusetts to meet the administration’s goal of creating 135,000 new housing units by 2025.
Cities and towns, which have permitted new housing units at a two-decade high rate over the past two years, are already on track to meet this goal.
The new grants will be in addition to the $1.2 billion housing bond bill filed by the governor in April.
Communities that follow the best practices laid out by the administration and obtain the “Housing Choice” designation will receive priority consideration for the grants. The program will be similar to the Green Community program, which is voluntary and meant to encourage cities and towns to invest in clean energy and climate change mitigation.
MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith expressed the association’s support for the general framework of the administration’s proposal.
“We are here today to express our enthusiasm for Gov. Baker’s framework and approach to solving the housing production challenge,” Beckwith said. “The governor is 100 percent correct – this is an issue that requires a partnership between the state and our cities and towns. Community leaders need resources, tools, incentives and flexibility, and they also need to preserve their decision-making authority, because there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
“We applaud the governor’s Housing Choice Program, because he is standing with cities and towns, and offering resources and tools that are necessary to make real progress together.”
The MMA’s policy committees are beginning a full review of the governor’s legislation and will offer input to the MMA Board of Directors on this issue throughout the year.
Housing Choice Initiative Summary (611K PDF)
Full text of An Act to Promote Housing Choices (190K PDF)