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'Housing Choice' Ready to Overcome the Planning Status Quo in Massachusetts

After several failed attempts, Massachusetts Legislature is close to a breakthrough on the Housing Choice initiative proposed by Governor Baker as a tool for generating a lot of new housing supply in the state.
August 13, 2020, 5am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Massachusetts State Capitol
Marc Lechanteur

The Boston Globe Editorial Board writes in support of a proposed law in the Massachusetts State House that would "weaken the ability of communities to exclude newcomers seems to be on the cusp of passage [paywall]."

"By seeing that effort through to completion in this session, Massachusetts lawmakers can both make the Commonwealth fairer to all its residents and take a timely stand against the president’s latest appeal to racism," according to the editorial.

The law in question is called the Housing Choice initiative, and it has persisted through several iterations after coming up short in 2018 and 2019. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has supported the initiative from the outset, and has shifted his support in recent months to include discussion of the economic and racial outcomes of the pandemic supplying additional necessity for the initiative. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the regional planning organization for the larger Boston area has also voiced support for Housing Choice as well as other attempts at statewide planning and zoning reform in Massachusetts.

As for the state of Housing Choice in this current, expected-for-approval, iteration, the editorial provides this status update: "Both the House and Senate have passed versions of the bill as part of larger legislative packages; now a conference committee just needs to hash out the final legislation. It falls well short of what housing advocates once wished for, and indeed makes only one change. But it’s a big one: The bill would make it easier for towns and cities to relax their zoning restrictions by requiring only a simple majority in their local governing bodies instead of a two-thirds supermajority."

The editorial was published at the end of July, and so far the Massachusetts Legislature has yet to take the final steps to approve Housing Choice, but when and if they do, it would add another massive step away from the planning status quo in the United States, joining the decision by the city of Portland, Oregon to adopt the Residential Infill Program this week as the most recent legislative actions in support of planning innovation. The editorial sets the Housing Choice initiative in context of President Trump's recent leverage of the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule as a campaign issue in this election year.

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Published on Wednesday, August 12, 2020 in The Boston Globe
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