State adopts new zoning rules to encourage more housing construction near public transportation

The housing crisis in Massachusetts can be largely attributed to a lack of construction over the past few decades, according to Michael Kennealy, the state’s secretary of housing and economic development. “In Massachusetts from 1960 to 1990, we permitted 900,000 units of new housing. From 1990 until today, it’s 470,000.”

Kennealy believes a lot of that reduction can be attributed to different zoning restrictions handled on the local level.

New state law will require communities to set aside space to build more multi-family housing near public transit facilities.

“It’s smart housing policy. It’s a smart transit policy. It’s smart climate policy, and it’s smart local economic development policy,” added Kennealy.

Specifically, each of the 175 so-called MBTA cities and towns will need to create a zone for multi-family development. It will need to be at least 50 acres and allow for 15 units per acre. The site must be within a ½ mile of public transportation.

“You can get a lot more density, a lot more units produced when you create these multi-family complexes near downtowns and your public transit,” said Kennealy.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association wrote a letter to the Baker administration asking the Governor to veto the bill before he signed it, saying in part, “Instead of a partnership with municipalities, Section 18 would create a statewide mandate imposing a one-size-fits-all zoning scheme on 175 communities, overriding local decision making.”

Rachel Heller, executive director of Citizen’s Housing and Planning Association, applauds the new regulations. “We can’t grow if people don’t live near their jobs, near their networks, near their families, near their doctor, near their schools.”

Communities are finalizing their plans right now and must submit them to state officials for approval later this spring. Cities and towns that don’t comply will face penalties like the loss of state grants.