During the Nov. 13 meeting of the Local Government Advisory Commission at the State House, the MMA renewed its call for the Legislature to enact the Housing Choices Act before the two-year legislative session concludes at the end of December.

The bill (H. 4290) would change the vote threshold to approve housing-related zoning amendments and special permits from the current two-thirds supermajority to a simple majority, thereby easing the process for communities to enact zoning changes that encourage housing development.

The MMA and other stakeholders argue that the bill would preserve decision-making authority for cities and towns, while making it easier to respond to community-based housing needs in a way that is appropriate for all neighborhoods and regions.

The bill was favorably reported by the Joint Committee on Housing in March, and has broad support from a diverse coalition of stakeholders, but it stalled during the logjam at the end of formal legislative sessions on July 31.

“Passing the bill now would kick-start a wave of community-based proposals to increase housing production,” said MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith. “Delaying action until the next legislative session would postpone progress.”

He pointed out that many communities can approve zoning changes only at town meetings, which are held in the fall or spring, and that further delay could mean missing an entire cycle, or more, of town meetings.

Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday expressed MMA support for the Housing Choices bill at a meeting of the Local Government Advisory Commission on Nov. 13.

The MMA has joined with the real estate community, homebuilders and other interests to form an unprecedented coalition to support this balanced approach to housing production. The coalition includes the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, NAIOP – the Commercial Real Estate Development Association of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board.

This year, Massachusetts is on track to permit nearly 15,000 new housing units, which would mark the sixth consecutive year that cities and towns will permit at least 14,000 new housing units. More than half of this year’s new housing units will be multi-family developments, which is higher than 10 years ago, when about a quarter of permitted units were multi-family.

Municipal leaders, however, are interested in doing more to address the state’s housing challenges. The MMA and the coalition argue that H. 4290 would enable municipalities to increase higher-density housing production, while ensuring that the new developments are in line with community and neighborhood needs.

The MMA and the coalition are continuing to urge legislators to pass the bill in 2018, without any divisive or weakening amendments, while the Legislature is meeting in informal session.

If the bill does not pass this session, it would need to be refiled for the new two-year legislative session in January and would be subject to a new hearing and committee review process.

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