AHMA Comments to DHCD Draft Guidelines for Required Multifamily Zoning in MBTA Communities

I am writing on behalf of Abundant Housing MA (AHMA), a statewide coalition of grassroots pro-housing advocates working to build open and welcoming communities across our Commonwealth. 

AHMA is broadly supportive of DHCD’s’ draft guidelines for compliance with the multi-family zoning requirements of new Section 3A of M.G.L. c. 40A. These draft guidelines are a critical 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 seeking to retain more “local control.” DHCD has provided adequate flexibility to communities in terms of density, sizing, and location of zoning districts in compliance with the Section 3A law.

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 zoned capacity targets. 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.

In addition, DHCD takes a rational approach in ratcheting down the zoned capacity for communities according to the type of transit service available, and concentrating that development near public transportation stations where available. Focusing new housing around public transportation helps ensure a sustainable future for communities and their residents by allowing greater freedom of choice to eliminate or reduce dependence on cars and fossil-fuel infrastructure. While every MBTA community has a role to play in meeting regional housing needs, it makes sense to direct the greatest potential for new units under the law towards the areas with the highest capacity of public transportation service.

AHMA encourages DHCD to consider the following items to further strengthen the final version of these guidelines:

  • By calculating each town’s target zoned capacity based on their existing unit count, communities that have built more homes in recent years are expected to do even more relative to other communities with comparable public transportation types. DHCD might consider recent past housing production in each community, and apply some additional multiplier to bring the zoned capacity target for these types of communities into balance.
  • DHCD should adopt standards to use when analyzing these new zoning districts for compliance, to ensure that any development produced in these zones is easily accessible to and from public transportation. It is not enough to require new housing to be near public transportation if that housing will be functionally inaccessible or not easily accessible for reasons such as highways or infrastructure.
  • This law and these guidelines will only work when the zoning districts are written to succeed. DHCD should state explicitly in the guidelines that the agency will consider zoning non-compliant with the law if it applies any unusual standards that effectively delay or discourage development in these districts.

AHMA is concerned with rhetoric we’ve heard recently from policy makers in some communities suggesting that their communities can afford to forgo compliance with the law. While the specific funding programs for which communities become ineligible if they do not comply are detailed in the Section 3A law, DHCD does include language at the end of draft guidelines maintaining that “DHCD may, in its discretion, take non-compliance into consideration when making other discretionary grant awards.” This is an important statement and we encourage DHCD, to the extent feasible under the law, to formally incorporate compliance with Section 3A into award criteria under other community development planning and funding programs it administers. Additionally, as the Section 3A law requires DHCD to consult with MassDOT to promulgate these guidelines, the agencies should develop standards by which compliance with Section 3A will be considered for discretionary funding programs administered by MassDOT.

🚨 Action Alert 🚨 Send a letter or testify in support eliminating costly parking mandates for affordable housing in Boston

Calling All Boston Residents!

On December 15th the City of Boston Zoning Commission is hosting a hearing that would amend the Boston Zoning Code by removing the citywide, off-street parking requirements, for proposed residential development where at least 60% of the units are income-restricted.

This amendment has already been approved by the Boston City Council and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). Help us get this important amendment to the finish line by sending a letter and/or signing up to testify!

This zoning amendment would eliminate the use of parking minimums as a bad-faith tactic for stalling affordable housing, and more, by…

  • by ending a costly mandate to many affordable housing developers.
  • not prohibiting parking in areas of need
  • taking a small but important step towards a carbon-neutral Boston

Parking minimum reform is an important step towards expediting and supporting the process of building more affordable housing and every unit lost or gained impacts members of our community. The Zoning and Planning Hearing is this Wednesday, December 15th, at 9am.

Action Alerts on the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay

Massachusetts has a severe housing shortage. We aren’t building enough homes to keep pace with demand, especially near jobs and transit. What’s more, 50 years after the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, much of what we have is still largely segregated by income and race. building enough homes to keep pace with demand, especially near jobs and transit.

Abundant Housing MA — Statement on Local Option Housing Bills

Originally published Jan. 17, 2020 on Medium.

Abundant Housing Massachusetts (AHMA) is a new, statewide pro-housing organization launching in 2020. Our complete organizational mission is included below the following statement.

The following statement was prepared by (AHMA) founding steering committee member Jarred Johnson, and cosigned by members Beyazmin Jiminez, Molly Goodman, Burhan Azeem, Jacob Oppenheim, and Jesse Kanson-Benanav.

I’m Jarred Johnson with Abundant Housing Massachusetts, a new group organizing Pro-Housing residents across Greater Boston and the state who are dedicated to zoning reform and making sure cities, towns, and neighborhoods across Mass are doing their part to solve the housing crisis. One of the chief causes of this housing crisis is the restrictive zoning across the state that concentrates the majority of development in only a handful of places. These exclusionary policies exemplify the unwillingness of some cities and towns to build the multi-family and affordable housing the state needs. We support any legislation that makes it easier for municipal governments to upzone single-family neighborhoods, especially around transit. We also support legislation that would force those municipalities that artificially suppress their housing supply through exclusionary single-family zoning to build the transit-oriented developments that the state so desperately needs.

We understand though, that zoning changes do not happen in a vacuum and that the structural changes around zoning will take some time for the benefits to be felt by low-income residents. That is why bills like H3924 & H1316, as well as the set of bills related to both the real estate transfer fee, right to purchase and right of first refusal, are crucial. As we build the housing we need around the region, we need to have the tools necessary to stop unfair rent hikes, building clearouts and allow tenants and non-profit to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing. We need to have the tools to limit rent increases, generate revenue for affordable housing, and give tenants more rights. All the while, we must build towards a future where renters have the best protection of all — numerous affordable choices of where to live, leaving no one at the mercy of their landlord.

I’d also like to add “Right to counsel” as one of the best ways to help protect current tenants from unfair evictions and illegal practices.

As valuable as the local option bills are, we hope the legislature can enact statewide or regionwide tenant protections and rent regulation to give renters uniformity and predictability as they move around the region. We want to and to ensure that all municipalities are doing their part to supply housing and protect tenants.

I hope that the legislature is able to embrace bold actions like the state of Oregon which abolished single-family zoning, allowing fourplexes in every town and city AND capped rent increases. Or like California, which capped rent increases AND and is close to requiring transit-connected and job-rich cities across the state to build much more multi-family housing, while providing protection for low-income neighborhoods.

Notes from YIMBYtown 2018

We’re often asked “why did you form AHMA?” and that leads us to tell the tale of our part in the planning of YIMBYtown 2018, held in Boston Sept. 20–23 at Roxbury Community College. We were able to hold the conference thanks in part to the generosity of Open Philanthropy & Harborlight Community Partners, our fiscal sponsor.

The conference was planned by a coalition of pro-housing groups, as well as staff members of various CDCs, and it became clear to us that a statewide advocacy group was needed, both to support our all-volunteer grassroots groups, and to lobby for state-level policy change.

Here’s some others sharing their experiences at, and of, the conference:

We Need Bold Leadership to Face Our Housing Crisis

Boston’s Next City Council Can Be a Leader in Massachusetts

Originally published as a special to Banker & Tradesman Nov. 10, 2019

With last week’s election, Boston had the opportunity to elect one of the most diverse councils in the city’s history. At the same time, the reality of the city’s failure to grapple with the housing crisis crept around every corner of every City Council candidate’s platform this election. As pro-housing activists and planners, we worry that the city’s leadership has yet to take into account how much of our city is at stake if we do not make bold changes in housing now.

We need more rental opportunities for students and families. We need homeownership opportunities for new couples living and working in Boston and for single parents trying to stabilize the future of their children. We need the Boston city council to help educate their counterparts in surrounding municipalities on the benefits of multi-family housing and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). Municipalities need a diverse housing stock to meet the needs of all their residents throughout various phases of their lives.

New housing units will provide homes for newcomers and long-time residents alike. Many young people cannot afford to live in the cities and towns where they grew up and the opportunities for elderly residents to age in their communities are dwindling. Boston cannot do this work alone but it can certainly lead the charge.

Boston Once Built for Newcomers 

Nearly alone in the Northeast, the city of Boston has managed to permit housing at a decent clip since the beginning of Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration. By allowing more growth than cities such as San Francisco, we have so far been able to avoid a catastrophic rent spiral, but we have yet to bring rents down sustainably.

Our permitting numbers, however, are dwarfed by the scale of housing production in cities that have seen thriving economies and falling rents, such as Seattle and Portland. There, the rate of growth has been twice Boston’s in its best years, year after year. 

A century ago, we built housing for the masses, welcoming immigrants fleeing poverty, famine, and persecution overseas and within the United States. Today, zoning laws constrain our ability to build most of these housing types and welcome newcomers. 

Historically, this is how cities thrived during booms: by building more housing and welcoming newcomers. Triple–deckers sprung up all over Boston in the two decades around the turn of the 20th century, making light of today’s changes. A century ago, we built housing for the masses, welcoming immigrants fleeing poverty, famine, and persecution overseas and within the United States. Today, zoning laws constrain our ability to build most of these housing types and welcome newcomers.

Building for the many and not the few is possible today, provided the city allows it. We have seen a spate of proposals for 100 percent affordable housing on parcels on city-owned land of Dudley Square, enabled by flexibility on height and density requirements, and limiting the amount of costly parking provided.

These projects are unfortunately the exception and not the rule, due to the restrictions we have placed around housing growth in Boston’s wealthiest and highest-in-demand areas. It is no surprise that we build mostly luxury housing, when costly permitting and appeals processes are needed to secure the right to build new housing. It would be a mistake to say these high–end units do no good – every resident in them is one not displacing a tenant in Roxbury. Rather, they are a missed opportunity, demonstrating how much needs to be done to bring rents down. 

What the Council Can Do 

In addition, the city of Boston needs real zoning reform. We can do better at increasing predictability and bringing down construction costs, but we are not in this alone. The surrounding cities and towns that make up the Greater Boston region are not doing their fair share. We desperately need the state legislature to pass Gov. Charlie Baker’s Housing Choice bill, which will reduce the requirement for passing municipal zoning changes to a simple majority instead of two-thirds of city council or town meeting. 

The Housing Choice legislation is only the first step. We know that exclusionary, single-family zoning has an ugly, racist history. In the age of Trump, we will be complicit in this legacy if we continue to throw up barriers for those hoping to move into opportunities that provide the freedom that only stable housing can provide. Research shows that restricting multi-family zoning segregates people by race and class.

By preventing the construction of multi-family housing, local governments are exacerbating the housing shortage, driving up prices and keeping away newcomers, and it has reached crisis levels. Families are forced to move farther and farther away from their jobs to find homes that they can afford, which means longer commutes, more traffic and more greenhouse-gas emissions.

The next Boston City Council needs to step up considerably on these issues. The path has been clearly blazed by cities from Minneapolis, where triplexes are now allowed by right on every parcel, to Seattle, where dense apartments are routinely permitted in residential areas, and in the state of Oregon where rent caps and statewide zoning reform were simultaneously introduced just this past year. It is our job to learn from their successes and apply them on the East Coast.

It would be foolish to squander a historical (bio)technology boom by passing on wage increases to landlords and homeowners by blocking growth. The City Council can be a leader in bringing the entire Greater Boston region together to solve our housing crisis collectively. We hope they will not let us down.