On December 15, 2021 the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) released draft guidelines for implementing the new law that requires 175 cities and towns in the MBTA region (“MBTA communities”) to adopt zoning districts that allow the as-of-right development of new multifamily homes near public transportation. These guidelines represent an important step towards building a more equitable and affordable region for all households, but ultimately their success depends on how they are embraced by local policy makers.
AHMA is broadly supportive of the draft guidelines and we believe that they should be a starting point for the important planning conversation that 175 impacted communities across the Greater Boston region must initiate soon. AHMA encourages DHCD to avoid watering down any final draft in response to comments received from stakeholders whose power rests in local control of exclusionary zoning.
In recognition that every town has a role to play in addressing our housing crisis, AHMA appreciates that the DHCD’s draft guidelines set ambitious, town-by-town targets for the number of multi-family homes for which each community must zone (“zoned capacity)”. For too long, the task of building the homes demanded by Greater Boston’s growing population has fallen to a handful of cities. The establishment of clear targets for each community is a recognition of the shared responsibility to build more open and welcoming neighborhoods across the region.
Ultimately, it’s hard to predict the real-world implications of these necessarily complex and layered draft guidelines until they are finalized and communities begin the process of adopting compliant zoning. Unfortunately, we’ve already heard from city councilors, selectpeople, and planning board members around the region questioning the need for their particular community to comply. Under the law governing these guidelines, cities and towns become ineligible for certain state infrastructure and housing planning grants if they do not comply. However, as an analysis by Boston Indicators illustrates, many communities covered by the law have not received the applicable state grants in recent years. Certain local officials have raised the idea that they may choose not to comply because these grants are not financially necessary to their towns.
Make no mistake: it is simply not acceptable for any community – particularly the most wealthy, racially segregated communities in our region which perpetuate their own segregated demographics by limiting housing choices through exclusionary zoning schemes – to shirk their responsibility under this shared effort. As one Newton City Councilor recently said, choosing not to comply because her wealthy city may be able to afford forgoing the state grants, would be tantamount, and similarly ethically dubious, to an able-bodied person “parking in a handicap spot because you can afford the ticket.”
While DHCD’s timeline for finalizing the implementation guidelines and the local Town Meeting schedule in many communities means that some towns may not be able to adopt the required multi-family zoning until 2023, AHMA will monitor compliance with this law in the months and years to come. If ineligibility for specific infrastructure and housing grants is not a significant enough carrot to ensure all communities comply, AHMA will propose and advocate for specific changes to the underlying law in future legislative sessions to mandate greater compliance.
AHMA believes that Massachusetts is for everyone. We are working to ensure that every community in Massachusetts is open and welcoming to all, regardless of race, income, age, ability, or other life experience. Key to this vision is a recognition that every city and town has a role to play in affordably, equitably, and sustainably housing Massachusetts’ current and future residents.