On Jan. 14, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a $626 million economic development bond bill, titled An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth.

One week after the bill was originally filed by the Baker-Polito administration last March, the Commonwealth entered a state of emergency to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill was subsequently updated in order to bolster economic recovery. The final version of the law reflects some of those changes.

Highlights include:
• $50 million for neighborhood stabilization
• $50 million for transit-oriented housing development
• $10 million for climate-resilient housing
• $40 million for revitalization of underused properties
• $10 million for regional and community assistance
• $20 for a new rural and small town development fund to support municipalities on local goals

Also included in the law are two housing-related policy changes. The Housing Choice provisions change state law to reduce the vote threshold needed to adopt certain zoning changes, from two-thirds to a simple majority. This language went into effect immediately.

The Housing Choices Act has been strongly supported by the MMA and a broad coalition of stakeholders including the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and NAIOP – The Commercial Real Estate Development Association.

The law also includes language that imposes a one-size-fits-all zoning scheme on 175 communities within the MBTA region. Communities in this group that fail to create a zoning district with as-of-right multifamily development would be ineligible for funds from the MassWorks Program, the Housing Choice Initiative, or the state’s Local Capital Projects Fund.

The MMA has consistently opposed this measure, and on Jan. 7 sent a letter to the governor asking him to veto Section 18 of the bill.

In a letter to the Legislature vetoing certain portions of the bill, the governor noted that, “Although I did not propose this section, I am signing it because the law gives my Administration considerable discretion to determine compliance. I expect the relevant agencies will work diligently with cities and towns to develop compliance criteria that are fair and reasonable, with due regard for different needs in different communities, and for the time and effort it takes to create new zoning districts.”

This portion of the bill will go into effect 90 days after it was signed.

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