Entering the final year of the 2019-2020 legislative session, a number of housing and zoning bills are starting to move through the legislative process and be positioned for possible passage.

These bills include Gov. Charlie Baker’s Act to Promote Housing Choices, as redrafted by the Joint Committee on Housing. The bill (H. 4263) would change state law to reduce the vote threshold needed to adopt certain zoning changes in order to promote housing production. The threshold would be reduced from two-thirds to a simple majority.

The Joint Committee on Housing made light technical edits to the bill before sending it to the House Ways and Means Committee. The current version would direct the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development to issue guidance to assist local officials in determining the voting threshold for various zoning amendments, a change that is supported by the MMA.

The Housing Choices Act is not the only housing- and zoning-related bill that has moved this session, however. A number of bills containing “by-right” language or mandates that would override local zoning bylaws – established by citizens and their elected and appointed leaders – have been reported out of various committees. Many of these mandate bills deal with accessory dwelling units, stating that no zoning ordinance or bylaw may prohibit or require a special permit for the use of land or structures for an accessory dwelling unit meeting certain conditions.

One bill would require any city or town designated as an “MBTA community” to provide at least one district of reasonable size for multi-family housing.

Another would require that 1.5% of developable land in a city or town be part of a zoning district that allows multifamily housing with a density of not less than 20 dwelling units per acre, along with cluster development by-right in residential zoning districts.

Some other housing- and zoning-related bills would:
• Authorize site plan review
• Permit municipalities with municipal affordable housing trust funds to impose a real estate transfer fee
• Modify the definition of tenant member on local housing boards to expand seat eligibility to tenants in public housing
• Mandate land use board training at no cost to the municipality
• Establish and regulate a transit-oriented housing development pilot program to offer incentives to cities and towns for substantial multifamily or mixed-use development

These bills have all taken an initial procedural step by being reported out of committee, but there is still a long road ahead before becoming law. Of the 6,000-plus bills pending before the Legislature, a little over 1,000 have moved so far this session. All bills that have any hope of passage this session, which is scheduled to wrap up on July 31, must move out of committee by Feb. 5, unless they receive an extension, or they will go to a study or receive an adverse report.

The MMA continues to focus on advocating for the Housing Choices Act and remains committed to the coalition formed in 2018 with 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.

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