Baker-Polito Administration Announces New Housing Choice Communities

On July 16, the Baker-Polito Administration announced the inclusion of eight new communities in the Housing Choice Communities program and the re-designation of 56 Housing Choice Communities.

Included in the designation were Everett, Chelsea and Boston.

This brings the total number of current Housing Choice Communities to 74 across the Commonwealth. This program is designed to recognize communities who have made substantial progress towards housing development goals and for the implementation of housing best practices to encourage sustainable development. The Housing Choice Designation is part of the Baker-Polito Administration’s strategy to produce 135,000 new housing units by 2025 to meet the high demand of housing across the state.

The newly designated communities are: Amesbury, Belchertown, Medfield, Middleborough, Newburyport, North Attleborough, Salem, and Sunderland.

Between 2015 and 2019, this year’s 64 Housing Choice Communities built 73 percent of all new housing units in Massachusetts. This designation affords Housing Choice Communities access to an exclusive, competitive capital grant program, and points on applications to nine other state capital grants, including MassWorks, MassDOT Complete Streets, EEA Community Investment Grants, and more.

Communities that receive this designation have either produced at least 500 new housing units or saw an increase of 5 percent or more in new housing units from January 1, 2015 through December 31, 2019, or, alternatively, produced at least 300 new housing units or saw an increase of 3 percent or more new housing units from January 1, 2015 through December 31, 2019 and met 7 of 14 Housing Choice Best Practices, two of which must be related to affordability. Most communities in today’s announcement have increased their housing production by 5 percent or more or have built over 500 new units since 2015.

Many of the Housing Choice Communities are implementing best practices to produce new housing.  Over 70 percent of the 2020 Housing Choice Communities now make it easier to build new multi-family housing through by-right zoning or a robust special permit pipeline of approved projects. Many others have invested Community Preservation Act funds in local projects, often in combination with local Affordable Housing Trusts to support new affordable housing development in the future.

The administration’s Housing Choice Initiative, which was announced in December 2017, is a package of technical assistance for communities, the Housing Choice Communities (HCC) designation, new capital grant funding, and pending legislation, An Act to Promote Housing Choices. This initiative complements the investments made by the Department of Housing and Community Development in affordable housing production across the state, and supports local government actions to meet the demands of a growing and aging population in Massachusetts.

The legislative proposal An Act to Promote Housing Choices, which was also filed as part of the Administration’s economic development legislation in March, will advance new housing production and promote equitable access to opportunity by enabling cities and towns to adopt certain zoning best practices related to housing production by a simple majority vote, rather than the current two-thirds supermajority. While this legislation will lower the voting threshold to change zoning for communities in the Commonwealth, it does not require cities and towns to make any of these changes. With the proposed simple majority threshold, municipalities that pursue rezoning efforts, including those enabling transit-oriented or downtown-oriented new housing, would gain approval if they achieve more than 50 percent of the vote, as opposed to the current supermajority of more than 66 percent. Massachusetts is currently one of only a few states to require a supermajority to change local zoning.  The legislation does not apply to the City of Boston, which has its own zoning regulations.

Zoning changes that promote best practices for housing growth 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.

• Approving Smart Growth or Starter Home districts that put housing near existing activity centers.

• Granting increased density through a special permit process.

• Allowing for the transfer of development rights and enacting natural resource protection zoning.

• Reducing parking requirements and dimensional requirements, such as minimum lot sizes.

• This legislation also includes a provision, added by the Joint Committee on Housing last session, that would reduce the voting threshold for a special permit issued by a local permit granting authority to a simple majority vote, for certain multi-family or mixed-use projects with at least 10 percent affordable units in locations near transit, or in centers of commercial activity within a municipality.

The Baker-Polito Administration has shown a deep commitment to increasing the production of housing across income levels. Since 2015, the administration has invested more than $1.1 billion in affordable housing, resulting in the production and preservation of more than 18,000 housing units, including 16,000 affordable units. In 2018, Governor Baker signed the largest housing bond bill in Massachusetts history, committing more than $1.8 billion to the future of affordable housing production and preservation. The Baker-Polito Administration has also advanced the development of more than 14,000 mixed-income housing units through the successful MassWorks Infrastructure Program, reformed the Housing Development Incentive Program, and worked with communities to implement smart-growth development and planning efforts.

2020 Housing Choice Communities

• Boston

• Chelsea

• Everett

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