Massachusetts Gets Serious About Upzoning

A Massachusetts law aimed at reducing the state's housing shortage mandates zoning for multi-family housing in most eastern Massachusetts jurisdictions.

January 26, 2022, 5:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

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A Massachusetts state bill designed to boost housing production and increase density near transit will limit access to state grants for municipalities that don't comply with upzoning regulations, reports Henry Grabar.

The law mandates that communities zone for "as-of-right" multi-family apartment construction in formerly single-family neighborhoods in order to alleviate the state's housing shortage. As Grabar notes, "The mandate applies to places served by or adjacent to stations of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the state agency that operates the buses and trains that fan out of Boston," with the biggest burden placed on "bedroom suburbs" that, despite having excellent transit, continue to limit housing production with exclusionary zoning that keeps housing costs high and supply low.

The new regulations require designated communities to zone or rezone at least one district to 15 homes per acre, compared to the current average of 6.2 homes per acre. Grabar points out that "That corresponds to a relatively dense but recognizably suburban fabric, such as town houses or duplexes around shared yards."

While state leaders hope a blanket policy will eliminate lengthy local hearing processes and reduce development costs, there are concerns about ways that resistant communities could circumvent or ignore the new law by adjusting zoning maps or imposing unreasonable restrictions.

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