We’ve been writing here about the cost and shortage of housing in Greater Boston for over a decade. This actually sounds like hopeful news:
Aiming for the construction of 135,000 new housing units by 2025, the Baker administration on Monday heralded $10 million in incentives to encourage cities and towns to promote development within their borders.
Gov. Charlie Baker also proposed legislation that would make it easier for municipalities to change their zoning to promote multifamily developments, reduce their parking requirements, and make other changes to smooth the way for more housing.
There’s been some legislative action on increasing housing supply in the last year: The Senate re-filed S.81, a priority of now-Acting President Chandler, which dovetails with House bill 2420. MA Smart Growth Alliance has a primer here.
As part of the Housing Choice Initiative, the Administration is proposing legislation that will remove barriers to improved land use and new housing, by promoting the adoption of local zoning best practices. This legislative proposal, An Act to Promote Housing Choices, would allow cities and towns to adopt certain zoning best practices by a simple majority vote, rather than the current two-thirds supermajority. Massachusetts is currently one of only ten states to require a supermajority to change local zoning; all other northeastern states rezone through simple majority votes.
Zoning changes that promote best practices that would qualify for the simple majority threshold include:
Building mixed-use, multi-family, and starter homes, and adopting 40R “Smart Growth” zoning in town centers and near transit;
Allowing the development of accessory dwelling units, or “in-law” apartments;
Granting increased density through a special permit process;
Allowing for the transfer of development rights and enacting natural resource protection zoning; and
Reducing parking requirements and dimensional requirements, such as minimum lot sizes.
This has been a stubborn issue, and decidedly not an easy political win. With the removal of 2/3 requirements, we’re lifting the NIMBY thumb on the scale that’s kept enough housing from being built. We have criticized Governor Baker for not heeding the long-term demands of the Commonwealth in favor of short-term thinking — but one has to give credit where it’s due.