Massachusetts Passes Legislation with Critical Zoning Reforms and Affordable Housing Resources

In Massachusetts, the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA)—an NLIHC state partner—and a coalition of affordable housing and community development organizations successfully advocated for the passage of H.5250, “An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth.” The legislation includes the first comprehensive zoning reform changes in Massachusetts in 40 years and authorizes $115 million for transit and climate-resilient affordable housing development and neighborhood stabilization activities. The bill also doubles the Massachusetts Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to $40 million per year. The legislation passed with overwhelming majority in the Massachusetts House and Senate and was signed by Governor Barker (R) on January 14.

One of the primary components of the act is zoning reform. In Massachusetts, zoning laws are made at the local level, which has resulted in some communities not allowing multifamily housing or affordable housing to be built. The reforms will make it easier for local governments to pass zoning changes by lowering the required vote threshold from a two third supermajority to a simple majority. This change will increase the number of homes built across the Commonwealth. Other CHAPA priorities in the act include multi-family zoning reforms, an increased cap for the state housing tax credit, a tenant appointment process to housing authority boards, eviction record sealing for minors, and penalization of lawsuits brought against planned housing developments for the purpose of delaying them.

CHAPA members advocated for the passage of the act over the last two years by writing letters to the Economic Development Bill Conference Committee outlining the necessary housing provisions to be included in the bill; creating corresponding FAQs to educate lawmakers on the provisions; and providing essential testimony. CHAPA staff mobilized its network through action alerts encouraging individuals and organizations to send messages to their representatives and Governor Baker. Additionally, CHAPA staff hosted meetings about housing provisions in the bill, where the bill was in the legislative process, and steps needed to ensure the legislation passed.

Because of CHAPA members’ outreach and education efforts, many state legislators championed the housing reforms. Key supporters included Housing Committee Chairs Representative Kevin Honan and Senator Brendan Crighton; long-time housing supporter Senator Joe Boncore; Representatives Andy Vargas and Christine Barber and Senator Harriette Chandler, who filed and led on the effort; Senator Eric Lesser and Representative Aaron Michlewitz, chief negotiators on the Economic Development Bill; and Senate President Karen Spilka, Speaker Ron Mariano, and former Speaker Bob DeLeo.

“This package of policies is truly historic,” says Eric Shupin, director of public policy at CHAPA. “Requiring communities to zone for multifamily housing and making it easier to pass smart growth zoning and affordable housing decisions through housing choice will make a real difference in people’s lives. These are systems changes that will open up opportunities in communities that have been out of reach for so many. With the funding for affordable housing and climate resilient housing along with increases in the state budget for our rental assistance programs, Massachusetts has more of the tools in place to create more of the homes we need. This will help people find homes they can afford in the communities they choose; whether it is moving to new communities or staying in the communities people have called home.”

Governor Baker pocket vetoed some portions of the legislation including giving tenants the right of first refusal to buy their home. The real estate industry groups had lobbied Governor Baker to veto this provision, citing concerns of its effects on the housing market and on the construction of new rental units. Governor Baker also vetoed a section of the legislation that would have allowed additional eviction records to be sealed, citing administrative burden.

To learn more about CHAPA, contact Ryan Dominguez, policy analyst at: [email protected]