Defend the ‘MBTA Communities’ multifamily zoning law to build a more equitable Massachusetts

The critical MBTA Communities law is under attack, and we need you to help defend it by sending a supportive Letter to the Editor of your community’s newspaper.

AHMA has been a strong supporter of the “MBTA Communities” multifamily zoning law, passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor in 2021 and now being implemented by the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED). This law requires 175 communities of eastern and central Massachusetts to adopt zoning districts where triple deckers, townhomes, apartments buildings and other types of multi family homes can be built. These guidelines represent an important step towards building a more equitable and affordable region for all our neighbors and our growing population. Click here to read AHMA’s statement on the draft EOHED guidelines implementing this law.

Unfortunately, the Boston Globe recently revealed that many of the 175 cities and towns impacted by this law have expressed opposition to EOHED’s draft guidelines, and that some communities are considering simply not complying with their legal obligation under the MBTA Communities law. But while the Globe article focused on opposition to the law, we know that AHMA and partner organizations – plus concerned residents from around the region – have expressed their support for this law as an important step towards building the homes needed for a more affordable Greater Boston region.

Pro-housing advocates across the 175 MBTA Communities need to continue making our voice heard. Let’s tell our communities how important it is for each city and town to meet its obligations to zone for more neighbors. We need you to write a letter to the editor, for a local paper of your choice this week!

We’ve created a guided template to help you customize and submit your letter and we’ve included a list of additional resources.

If you do submit, please let us know by filling out this form. When it gets published we will excitedly share it across our AHMA network!

AHMA Members Event: How to Advocate for Multifamily Zoning in Your MBTA Community

Join us for an AHMA members only strategizing and capacity-building event.

Wednesday, March 9
6:00 PM to 7:30 PM
via Zoom

Link provided upon registration

Not an AHMA member? You can join any time!

In December the MA Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD) released draft guidelines implementing the new state law requiring the 175 cities and towns comprising “MBTA Communities” to zone for multifamily near public transportation. This law is an important step forward for housing equity and affordability that can lead to more housing choice across eastern and central Massachusetts, especially in some of our most exclusionary suburbs. Abundant Housing MA released this public statement on the draft guidelines and submitted supportive comments to DHCD.

While DHCD plans to finalize the guidelines over the summer, many AHMA members are already beginning conversations about how best to engage their municipalities in adopting these required multifamily zoning districts. Leaders in some communities are already wondering publicly whether their communities can shirk their responsibility under this law, so strong advocacy from grassroots pro-housing activists will be necessary across all 175 MBTA communities.

Our members-only event will begin with a briefing from Boston Indicators on DHCD’s draft guidelines and then continue with collective strategizing and capacity building to prepare activists for what could be difficult conversations in their cities and towns. We will:

  • Share a roadmap of action steps and tools (such as a template letter/guides, etc.) you can use for your advocacy purposes.
  • Engage in strategy and power mapping exercises to help you understand the best approach in your community.
  • Hear from AHMA members already engaged in advocacy efforts in their city about how they’ve approached this conversation and their lessons learned so far.

This event is for AHMA members-only! If you would like to participate but have not yet joined AHMA membership is open to all! Click here to join us, or, send us an email to confirm if your membership is active.

Whether or not you’re planning to attend this meeting, we hope you’ll complete this survey to help us better understand the conversations that may be happing in your town about the MBTA communities law and DHCD’s draft guidelines so that we can best develop and the strategic support you may need moving forward.

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.

AHMA Statement on DHCD Draft Guidelines for Required Multifamily Zoning in MBTA Communities

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.

🚨Action Alert🚨 Ask Your Legislators to Co-Sponsor H.1448/S.871 & Support the Pro-Housing Agenda

We need your state representative and senator to co-sponsor and support key legislation and we’ve launched this letter-writing campaign to help you do just that. We invite you to sign and share.

(H.1448/S.871) An Act Relative to Housing Production will increase the production of affordable homes, remove restrictive zoning barriers, and proposes innovative solutions for land use in MA.The final day for bills to be reported out favorably by joint committees at the statehouse is February 2nd.

With this fast-approaching deadline, we need all hands on deck to ensure that our state delegation prioritizes our housing policy needs.

This letter also references AHMA’s legislative priorities, which are centered on building the homes we need to house our state’s growing population, stabilizing communities through stronger tenant protections, and desegregating our cities and towns by eliminating racial and class disparities in access to housing, financial lending, education, and more.

Click here to take action and write to your legislators today!

🚨 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.

Abundant Housing MA Denounces Boston ZBA Denial Of Affordable And Sustainable Housing Proposed For 4198 Washington Street, Roslindale


The proposed design for an affordable and sustainable housing/commercial development at 4198 Washington Street, Roslindale.

Abundant Housing MA (AHMA) stands with our members from WalkUP Roslindale, with other neighbors in Roslindale, and across the City of Boston in denouncing Tuesday’s decision by the Boston Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to reject the zoning relief application for the proposed development at 4198 Washington Street in Roslindale Square. 

AHMA believes that Massachusetts is for everyone. We work to ensure that every community in Massachusetts is open and welcoming to all households regardless of race, income, age, ability or any other life circumstance. We envision a housing market in Massachusetts that lets people move where they want, when they want, not when they have to. To achieve an equitable, affordable and environmentally sustainable Massachusetts and Boston we must build more homes of all types, shapes, and sizes near jobs, services, transportation and other existing infrastructure. 

The proposed development at 4198 Washington Street would help Boston achieve this vision. By locating in the transit-rich Roslindale Square neighborhood and not building on-site parking, the developers would have been able to achieve the following community benefits:

  • 42% of the 31 total homes built in this development would be affordable to low- and moderate-income households, far exceeding the 13% requirement under Boston’s Inclusionary Development Program (IDP);
  • A brand new, larger space for Rozzie Square Theater, the only woman of color-owned improv theater in Boston;
  • Right-to-return and below market rate rents for existing commercial tenants like Delicious Yogurt; and,
  • Leveraging the site’s location in a highly transit-oriented neighborhood with commuter rail and multiple high-frequency bus routes and a pledge by the developer to subsidize CharlieCards for the future residents.

As a result of the misguided ZBA decision to deny the project with prejudice, the developer cannot bring this project back to the ZBA for at least one year. If they choose to re-apply, they will be required to include parking which will likely mean the elimination of a number of affordable homes and the below market rate commercial rents. It will also result in more traffic congestion on local streets around Roslindale Square. 

Rather than being denied by the ZBA, the 4198 Washington Street proposal should be a precedent for the type of inclusive, affordable, and sustainable housing and commercial development that we need across the City of Boston. This is why many Roslindale residents spoke up to support this project during the community process, and why elected officials including District 5 City Councilor Ricard Arroyo, Former Mayor Kim Janey, and At Large City Councilor Julia Mejia all supported this proposal.  

It is symbolic that this denial came from the ZBA almost to the hour that Mayor Wu took the oath of office. AHMA agrees with Mayor Wu who in the past has raised concern about the frequent need for zoning variances to approve new development in Boston and the arbitrary and capricious standards for granting them. The ZBA denial of variances for the 4198 Washington Street development is the latest in a string of incidents where Boston’s inability to enact zoning that serves the needs of our growing city resulted in actions that run counter to our community’s interests and values.  Boston needs new zoning laws; in their absence, it needs fair and transparent standards for the granting of variances, reflecting the community planning and review work done by the BPDA.

AHMA calls upon Mayor Wu and the City Council to:

  • Urgently work to  fill the 11 ZBA vacancies with experts & community members who reflect the diversity of lifestyles in Boston and who prioritize abundant and affordable homes in all neighborhoods.
  • Codify zoning rules that make approvals by-right for infill development without costly parking mandates that reduce affordability and sustainability in existing dense, transit rich neighborhoods, especially for projects with a substantial affordable component.

Welcoming Kassie Infante to the AHMA Team

The AHMA Board and Executive Director are pleased to announce the hire of Kassie Infante as AHMA’s new Statewide Organizer!

Kassie comes to us most recently from the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts where she managed the Black Mass Coalition of statewide leaders committed to putting actionable progress behind the Black Lives Matter statement. She grew up in the City of Lawrence, where she is a former elected-school committee member and veteran educational justice advocate.

Through her new role at AHMA, Kassie will become a familiar face for pro-housing advocates across Massachusetts. As Statewide Organizer at AHMA Kassie will help grow our movement by identifying and activating pro-housing changemakers and building grassroots, pro-housing organizations in all corners of the Commonwealth. We are beyond excited to have Kassie join our team and hope you join us in welcoming her.

EVENT: What MA Can Learn From CA Zoning Reform Victories

A Conversation With CA State Senator Scott Wiener

Please join AHMA on Tuesday, December 7th at 6:00 pm for a webinar with California State Senator Scott Wiener, a leading voice of the California pro-housing movement in the California legislature. Click here to RSVP.

Massachusetts and California are both growing states that have historically built fewer homes than their residents need, and as a result are epicenters of the housing affordability crisis in the United States. Senator Wiener joined with his colleagues in the legislature to pass a comprehensive set of zoning reform bills that could lead to the creation of many hundreds of thousands of new homes that California needs to combat its severe housing crisis. While Massachusetts made progress towards zoning reforms with the passage of Housing Choice earlier this year, further state action is critical to build the homes for which people in our Commonwealth are desperate.

Senator Wiener will speak with AHMA about the progress in California, and what we in Massachusetts can do to win similar, big statewide action to help stem our own housing crisis.

AHMA Election Round-Up

Last Tuesday was local election day in many Massachusetts communities, and the biggest story was Michelle Wu’s historic win as the next Mayor of Boston. AHMA congratulates Mayor-elect Wu on her victory, and we look forward to working with her and her administration to build a pro-housing Boston. AHMA agrees with Mayor-elect Wu who has raised alarm about the frequent use of zoning variances to permit new housing construction in Boston. Variances are special allowances granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals to exceed basic zoning rules – most of which in Boston were implemented decades ago while the city’s population was shrinking do not meet the housing needs of Boston’s growing population today.

AHMA will work with Mayor Wu and the next City Council to build on our recent success eliminating parking minimums for affordable housing in Boston. We need to reform Boston’s zoning code and ensure an abundant variety of homes are built to keep Boston affordable for all people.

In other Boston urban core communities, pro-housing candidates endorsed by AHMA member organizations performed well:

  • In Cambridge, AHMA board treasurer Burhan Azeem was elected to the City Council along with five other candidates endorsed by A Better Cambridge. Burhan was joined on the ABC candidate slate by Marc McGovern, a fellow AHMA member who was re-elected. Their six-person majority on the nine-seat City Council will help protect Cambridge’s Affordable Housing Overlay from NIMBY attempts to weaken or eliminate it completely.
  • In Somerville all candidates endorsed by Somerville YIMBY for Mayor and City Council won their races.
  • In Newton, 9 of the 11 candidates endorsed by AHMA member organization Engine 6 were elected. This includes the re-election of Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and helps maintain a narrow pro-housing majority on the city’s council at a time when local zoning reform and housing production has become a top focus. This week dirty tactics by an incumbent City Councilor, who is notoriously opposed to building more homes in Newton, were exposed by the Boston Globe.

Pro-housing leaders continue to build power throughout Greater Boston, and among the victories last week include friends and/or members of AHMA:

  • Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll was resoundingly re-elected to a fifth term in office. Kim has been an unabashed pro-housing leader for Salem, advocating for zoning reforms to build the homes Salem needs to be a more affordable and welcoming community.
  • AHMA member Jack Eccles was re-elected as Melrose City Councilor-At-Large
  • Friend of AHMA Cobi Frongillo was re-elected to the Franklin Town Council.