Spare Change News: Governor’s bill would ease zoning restrictions, create more housing in Massachusetts

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By Jordan Frias   March 13, 2019

In an effort to deal with the affordable housing crisis in Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is encouraging the state legislature to pass a bill that would create more homes in the Bay State.

His bill “An Act to Promote Housing Choices” now includes language that would allow cities and towns to easily pass zoning changes with a simple majority vote.

Many cities and towns require a two-thirds supermajority to make such changes.

In his announcement of the bill, Baker said it is time to increase housing production substantially.

“Today, we have more people in Massachusetts than at any time in our Commonwealth’s history,” Baker said in a statement, “and the need for substantially increased housing production – for residents across the income spectrum – is necessary to match Massachusetts’ booming economic growth.”

The governor’s press release suggests several ways that communities can change zoning to allow for more homes, including special permits for increased density, reducing parking and dimensional requirements for projects and zoning in town centers and near public transit to allow for more mixed-use, multi-family and starter homes to be built.

A provision in the bill also allows for a simple majority vote on permits for building multi-family and mixed-use projects near town centers and transit, as long as those projects make 10 percent of their units on-site affordable.

The governor’s administration says if passed this legislation will help it reach its goal of producing 135,000 new housing units by 2025.

Sue Nohl, deputy director of Metro Housing/Boston, who was at the governor’s press conference on the bill, said any news of housing production is always nice to hear though she is worried if passed it won’t benefit those most in need.

“As the governor indicated it’s one tool that will allow developers to possibly increase the number of housing units they develop in the Commonwealth,” Nohl said, “[but] I don’t think it’s going to be, and I didn’t see anything or hear anything or I haven’t seen anything in what I read, that leaves me to have a high confidence that those housing units will be for the folks with the lowest income.

“I think our job, our responsibility given the folks that we serve is to never lose sight of the fact that unless somebody says that housing is being built to be accessible to those with the lowest of low income classification, that most of the time it doesn’t reach them; so it’s our job to always continuously [be] beating the drum.”



  
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