Legislature turns to housing production bill

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Legislators and stakeholders are looking for agreement on a housing production bill that can be enacted and sent to the governor by the time the formal legislative session comes to end on July 31.
 
With time growing short, focus is increasingly on a bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker last December that would reduce from two-thirds to a simple majority the local vote required to change zoning and issue permits that would spur housing initiatives, mainly through higher-density development.
 
The governor’s targeted housing production bill (H. 4075) and a more controversial comprehensive bill have both been sent to the House.
 
The MMA Board of Directors has endorsed the governor’s bill and asked House leaders to move it forward as a workable and effective approach to housing production. The MMA has also called on legislators to oppose the addition of disputed items such as mandated zoning, threats of litigation, and other provisions that could derail efforts to get a bill done this year.
 
Organizations representing housing and commercial property developers and real estate interests also support a targeted housing production bill.
 
The governor’s bill would not require cities and towns to adopt any particular zoning scheme, but would reduce the two-thirds vote threshold for approval of changes. The change to a simple majority is a significant shift in the rules governing how citizens and municipal officials make land use decisions. While disruptive, it is seen as a workable and balanced tool that would let cities and towns move forward more effectively on local housing initiatives while retaining community participation in the process.
 
The governor’s bill would establish a simple majority standard for local votes on zoning bylaws and ordinances that would allow “by right” multifamily or mixed uses in a Chapter 40R (“smart growth”) eligible location, and for certain limited accessory dwelling units and limited open-space residential development.
 
The governor’s bill would also reduce the vote threshold required for special permits issued for multifamily or mixed use in a 40R-eligible location, or for an increase in development density in residential or mixed-use development, including a reduction in local parking space requirements.
 
The new simple majority standard would also apply to local votes on bylaws and ordinances that would provide for transfer of development rights and natural resource protection zoning that would not result in a reduction in the number of developable housing units, to the modification of dimensional regulations to allow for additional housing, and to the adoption of 40R districts.
 
The governor’s legislation, part of his Housing Choice Initiative, was drafted to help cities and towns issue permits for 135,000 new housing units by 2025. At a State House event on May 14, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito named 67 cities and towns as Housing Choice Communities and awarded Planning for Housing Production technical assistance grants to 15 municipalities. Both programs support ongoing municipal efforts across the state to increase housing production.
 
At the ceremony, MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith said, “This program demonstrates that cities and towns are doing great work producing more housing units locally, and we know that passage of the governor’s Housing Choice legislation will boost this momentum and provide communities with the tools and flexibility to build even more housing.”