BOSTON (SHNS) – State officials this week released the final set of multi-family zoning rules that half of all municipalities in Massachusetts will soon have to meet if they want to preserve their access to important sources of state funding.
An economic development law that Gov. Charlie Baker signed in January 2021 requires that every MBTA community have at least one zoning district near a transit station in which multi-family housing is allowed as of right. There are 175 cities and towns that will now have to comply with requirements under the law, and those with greater access to MBTA service will have greater obligations.
The high cost of living in Massachusetts is pinching family budgets and making the state appear less desirable for business growth. The lack of available housing units in the state contributes to high prices and the Baker administration said that the “lack of zoning for multi-family housing is a barrier for new housing development in Massachusetts.” On Wednesday, the Department of Housing and Community Development released the final guidelines for determining whether an MBTA community is in compliance with the new law.
“As you review the guidelines and begin work to comply with the new law’s zoning requirement, keep in mind: If Massachusetts is to remain a desirable place for individuals, families, and businesses, then we need to confront the housing crisis together,” Secretary Mike Kennealy and Undersecretary Jennifer Maddox wrote in a letter to all MBTA communities this week. “This law is not a housing production mandate. It is all about setting the table for more transit-oriented housing in the years and decades ahead — which is not just good housing policy, but good climate and transportation policy, too.”
The new guidance lays out exactly what is required of the 175 municipalities that are considered MBTA communities for the purposes of the law: The multi-family housing districts must have a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre; be no more than half a mile from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station; have no age restrictions; and be suitable for families with children.
MBTA communities that do not comply with the law’s requirements by their required dates will not be eligible for awards from major sources of state funding for municipal projects — the Housing Choice Initiative, the Local Capital Projects Fund, or the MassWorks Infrastructure Program.
All MBTA communities must submit an action plan to DHCD by Jan. 31, 2023. Based on the type of MBTA community it is, cities and towns are required to come into full compliance by different dates. The 12 “rapid transit” communities by Dec. 31, 2023, the 69 “commuter rail” communities by Dec. 31, 2024, the 59 “adjacent communities” by Dec. 31, 2024, and the 35 “adjacent small town” communities by Dec. 31, 2025. Boston is exempt from the law.
In their letter to MBTA communities on Wednesday, Kennealy and Maddox explained some of the changes that the Baker administration made based on the input they got on the draft guidance that was issued in December. A minimum land area requirement was dropped, the unit capacity requirement was reduced for communities with a population less than 7,000 or fewer than 500 residents per square mile, “circuit breakers” were installed to keep multi-family unit capacity from surpassing 25 percent of a community’s existing housing stock, and the rule about what portion of a multi-family zoning district must be within a half mile of a transit station was tailored to be more specific to each community, they said.
The administration officials offered technical assistance and other resources to communities, and said they would host a webinar on Sept. 8 to explain the new guidelines in more detail.