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Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
The MMA hosted a webinar with administration officials on March 2 to cover the recent Housing Choice provisions included in a comprehensive economic development law that was enacted in January.
The conversation was led by Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy and Chris Kluchman, deputy director of the Community Services Division in the Department of Housing and Economic Development.
Kennealy kicked off the program by thanking the MMA and local officials for their active partnership that helped get Housing Choice passed.
“This will better enable municipalities to adopt zoning measures needed to meet the state’s housing needs and, importantly, do so in a way that meets their needs,” Kennealy said. “We as an administration always understand that not all cities and towns are the same. Every city and town has unique needs and opportunities.
“The basic thrust of Housing Choice is to make it easier for cities and towns to develop the housing they need at a time when we need a lot more housing of all kinds across Massachusetts,” he said. “We believe that through these targeted amendments to Chapter 40A, the state can create a more predictable and fair process for zoning, and ultimately result in a lot more housing production across the state.”
Housing Choice made changes to Chapter 40A by reducing the vote threshold for certain kinds of zoning ordinances and bylaws from a two-thirds supermajority to a simple majority.
“There is no opt-in provision,” said Kluchman. “It simply changed the law and now applies to all cities and towns. It doesn’t require you to do anything, it just allows you to make zoning for housing more easily.”
Kluchman identified the types of zoning ordinances or bylaws that now require only a simple majority:
• Allowing for multi-family housing or mixed-use developments “as of right” in an eligible location
• Allowing for open space residential development as of right
• Allowing accessory dwelling units, either within the principal dwelling or within a detached structure on the same lot, as-of-right
• Allowing by special permit accessory dwelling units in a detached structure on the same lot
• Reducing the parking requirements for residential or mixed-use development under a special permit
• Allowing an increase in the permissible density of population or intensity of a particular use in a proposed multi-family or mixed-use development that requires a special permit
• Changing dimensional standards such as lot coverage or floor area ratio, height, setbacks, minimum open space coverage, parking, building coverage to allow for the construction of additional residential units on a particular parcel or parcels of land
• Providing for transfer-of-development-rights zoning or natural resource protection zoning in instances where the adoption of such zoning promotes concentration of development in areas that the municipality deems most appropriate for such development, but will not result in a diminution in the maximum number of housing units that could be developed within the municipality
• Adopting a smart growth or starter home district in accordance with Section 3 of Chapter 40R of the General Laws
Key terms for the items above are defined in Section 1A of the Zoning Act.
Kluchman also emphasized that any zoning amendment that requires a simple majority vote should not be combined with an amendment that requires a two-thirds vote. She said guidance issued by DHCD on the new law states that if a municipality does desire to combine proposals with different voting thresholds, it should first confer with the Municipal Law Unit of the Attorney General’s Office.
Questions about Housing Choice should be directed to the DHCD at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Housing Choice webinar presentation (1.4M PDF)