Mass Attorney General Issues Advisory on MBTA Communities Zoning Law
In full transparency, the following is a press release from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office submitted to SOURCE media.
BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell today, March 15, issued an advisory to clarify requirements imposed on towns and cities by the 2021 MBTA Communities Zoning Law.
To address the Commonwealth’s severe housing crisis, the law implemented zoning reforms that require towns and cities to allow reasonable levels of multifamily housing development near MBTA stations. In response to some confusion about the requirements of the law, the AG’s advisory explains that all MBTA Communities must comply.
“Compliance with the MBTA Communities Zoning Law is not only mandatory, it is an essential tool for the Commonwealth to address its housing crisis along with our climate and transportation goals,” said AG Campbell. “While the housing crisis disproportionately affects communities of color and poor, working families, it threatens all of us along with our economy and thus requires all of us do our part including ensuring adequate development of affordable, transit-oriented housing for our residents and families.”
The MBTA Communities Zoning Law was enacted to remove barriers to the development of higher-density, transit-oriented housing along the MBTA transportation network to address the Commonwealth’s housing crisis, and advance significant climate and transportation goals. Because some local zoning laws sought to limit or prevent the construction of multifamily housing near MBTA stations, the statute explicitly responds by requiring MBTA Communities to have at least one zoning district of reasonable size in which multifamily housing is allowed “as of right.” This district must generally be located within half a mile of a transit station and allow for development at a minimum gross density of fifteen units per acre. The law also prevents restrictions within the designated district that would interfere with the construction of housing suitable for families with children.
Today’s advisory explains that covered communities must come into compliance with the MBTA Communities Zoning Law. MBTA Communities that do not currently have a compliant multi-family zoning district must take steps outlined in the Department of Housing and Community Development’s guidelines to demonstrate interim compliance. The advisory clarifies that covered communities cannot opt out of or avoid their obligations by choosing to forego state funding. Failure to comply may result in civil enforcement action or liability under federal and state fair housing laws.
Ensuring access to safe and affordable housing is a top priority within the AG’s Office and guides much of the work done by the office across its many divisions. Rental housing was the top issue raised in complaints to the AG’s Consumer Advocacy and Response Division (CARD) in 2022, outpacing complaints in all other categories for the first time. Many residents reported unsafe and unsanitary conditions, rent hikes and evictions. These complaints were handled by CARD and the AGO-funded Local Consumer Programs, which helped tenants resolve disputes with landlords, apply for rental assistance and connect with private attorneys.
A variety of resources are available for cities and towns working to achieve compliance with the MBTA Communities Zoning Law, including:
DHCD and its partner agencies are collaborating to provide technical assistance to MBTA communities that need help understanding and implementing the compliance requirements of Section 3A of MGL c. 40A, including the Community One Stop for Growth (Community Planning, Rural and Small Town Development Fund and Housing Choice Grants), and Energy and Environmental Affairs Land Use Grants.
To help MBTA communities comply with the new law, Massachusetts Housing Partnership is providing technical assistance in collaboration with DHCD and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Applications are currently being accepted here.
The Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) is now providing technical assistance for community engagement to all interested MBTA Communities seeking to comply with the Multi-family Zoning Requirements for MBTA Communities (Section 3A). Municipal staff, elected leaders, and board members are encouraged to apply. Apply here.
“Massachusetts is in a housing crisis, and our administration is committed to partnering with cities and towns to ensure everyone is doing their part to tackle it. The MBTA Communities zoning requirements will help us meet our housing needs and achieve our ambitious climate goals by creating capacity for new multi-family housing in areas near public transit,” said Governor Maura Healey.
“Greater Boston is mired in an affordable housing crisis that harms Commonwealth households of all incomes and backgrounds, but particularly low-income households of color. Municipal compliance with the MBTA Communities Law is critical to begin combatting that crisis. We applaud Attorney General Campbell’s important effort to provide legal guidance on the MBTA Communities Law.,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights.
“Implementing this law will put Massachusetts on the path to a bright and vibrant future for all residents of the Commonwealth. Zoning has historically been used to create and perpetuate segregation and housing discrimination. When we limit opportunities for people to live in the communities they choose, it hurts all of us. The MBTA Communities law was passed to remove exclusionary barriers that prevent housing development and put new policies in place that allow for people and our communities to thrive,” said Whitney Demetrius, Director of Fair Housing Engagement at Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA).
“The Commonwealth is facing a statewide housing shortage that can only be addressed locally. We need more diverse housing, affordable housing, and homes near amenities and services. This is an ambitious undertaking, but the MBTA Communities law will help localities remove significant regulatory barriers to housing development. There’s enough flexibility in the guidelines and technical assistance available for municipalities to draft compliant zoning that also enhances neighborhoods. MAPC is eager to work with communities to expand housing access and opportunity throughout the region, and appreciates the State’s leadership and support on this effort,” said Karina Oliver-Milchman, Chief of Housing and Neighborhood Development at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).
“Massachusetts is experiencing a housing crisis and we need everyone, and every municipality, to do their part in increasing the number of homes that are available and affordable to the residents of our Commonwealth so that we can have healthy and thriving communities. We know that many communities are grappling with the challenges of addressing the vast need for additional housing, including affordable housing, and we are glad that Attorney General Campbell is willing to step up and support those communities that are doing their part, and can hold accountable those who are not,” said Kristina St. Cyr, Director of Policy and Civic Engagement at the MA Association of Community Development Corporations.
“The Alliance for Business Leadership recognizes that the Commonwealth’s economic success depends on access to affordable housing, and that we all must work together to address the current housing crisis. We thank Attorney General Campbell for her leadership in clarifying MBTA communities’ obligation to do their part to remove barriers to desperately needed housing development. Business leaders stand ready to work with the Attorney General and our local communities to ensure sustainable growth and opportunity for everyone in Massachusetts.,” said JC Morales, Board Chair at the Alliance for Business Leadership and Founder & Managing Partner at Surfside Capital Advisors.