MMA testimony to Housing Committee urges support for governor’s Act to Promote Housing Choices

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The Honorable Kevin G. Honan, House Chair
The Honorable Joseph A. Boncore, Senate Chair
Joint Committee on Housing
State House, Boston
 
Dear Chair Honan, Chair Boncore, and Distinguished Members of the Committee,
 
On behalf of cities and towns across the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to express our enthusiasm for the framework established by H. 4075, An Act to Promote Housing Choices. When Governor Baker unveiled the Housing Choice Initiative, he was right in saying that the housing challenges currently facing the Commonwealth can only be addressed by a strong partnership between the state and our cities and towns. The MMA has long encouraged the state to provide both technical and financial resources to local officials as they work to develop effective housing and zoning policies, and we are pleased to see that this legislation is accompanied by a grant program that begins to do just that.
 
We believe that any reform to state zoning laws must contain strong protection of local decision-making authority, and we strongly oppose bills that contain “by-right” language that would override zoning by-laws that have been established by citizens and their elected and appointed leaders. The Governor’s bill rightly rejects this top-down, one- size-fits-all approach, recognizing that there is no way that Beacon Hill can impose mandates and zoning prescriptions without creating countless unintended consequences. From a practical perspective, the impact of neighborhood build-outs cannot be orchestrated centrally.
 
Rather than mandates, local officials and community leaders need resources, tools, incentives and flexibility. Within the context of the status quo, cities and towns across Massachusetts are leaders in pioneering innovative and bold approaches to housing issues. Here the state is a vital partner, and the MMA applauds the Baker-Polito Administration and the Legislature for the good work and partnership of MassWorks, MassDevelopment, and other state agencies and programs in providing municipal governments with many tools they need to realize community-driven visions for zoning and planning. H. 4075 builds on this approach.
 
The last three years have shown record growth in the number of permits issued by municipalities for new housing units, and in the percentage of those newly-permitted units that are multi-family. Rather than disrupt this momentum with a drastic, one-size- misfits-all approach, we ask that the Legislature recognize the need to preserve local decision-making authority. We applaud the Governor's Housing Choice Program, because the proposal stands with cities and towns, and offering resources and tools that are necessary to make real progress together.
 
H. 4075 creates a careful balance and is offering a promising path forward. We ask you to maintain this balance, and reject further amendments, as this could unravel the opportunity to achieve progress that would come with this partnership framework.
 
Thank you very much for your quick action in scheduling this hearing, and for your attention to this measure. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Legislative Analyst David Lakeman at (617) 426-7272 at any time.
 
Sincerely,
 
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO