Governor launches initiative to increase housing production

At the Roxbury Tenants of Harvard on Mission Hill, the Baker-Polito administration announced on Dec. 11 a new initiative in efforts to increase housing production across the Commonwealth, according to a press release. The Housing Choice Initiative will create a system of incentives and rewards for municipalities that deliver sustainable housing growth and propose legislative changes regarding zoning through “An Act to Promote Housing Choices.”

The Housing Choice Initiative will include more than $10 million in incentives, grant funding, and technical assistance per year. This was designed to help meet the state’s goal of creating 135,000 new housing units by 2025.

“Our growing economy demands a robust and diverse supply of housing to support the Commonwealth’s continued growth and success,” said Governor Charlie Baker, according to the press release. “This initiative will maximize collaboration between state agencies, support innovation and data-driven policies, and provide municipalities with the user-friendly tools needed to create more housing where it’s needed. We look forward to working with the legislature and partnering with cities and towns to deliver much needed housing to regions across Massachusetts, while respecting our long-standing home rule tradition.”

Communities will be rewarded with a Housing Choice designation when they produce new housing units and have adopted best practices to promote sustainable housing development, use land efficiently, and protect natural resources and conserve energy. Cities and towns that receive the designation will receive preferential treatment for state grants and capital funding programs.

“Access to affordable housing is one of the greatest challenges facing cities across the Commonwealth,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh, according to the press release. “I am proud of our work in Boston in teaming up with other cities across the region to increase our affordable housing stock and continue creating homes for all. Together with the support of the Commonwealth through the new Housing Choice Initiative, cities and towns, including Boston, will have a new set of tools at our disposal to continue delivering more housing for the people we serve.”

The Housing Choice Initiative will also propose legislation that would allow cities and towns to adopt certain zoning best practices by a simple majority vote, rather than the current two-thirds supermajority. This is in efforts to reduce barriers when improving land use and developing new housing. Zoning changes that promote best practices 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;

-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.

An Act to Promote Housing Choices does not mandate that cities and towns make any of these zoning changes, but rather allows municipalities that want to rezone for responsible housing growth to do so more easily.

The Baker-Polito Administration also announced $1,296,219 in grant funding for 37 projects through the new Planning Assistance Grant Program. Funded through spending authorized in the Environmental Bond Bill, the Planning Assistance Grant Program is part of an effort to encourage municipalities to implement land use regulations that are consistent with the Baker-Polito Administration’s land conservation and development objectives including reduction of land, energy, and natural resource consumption, provision of sufficient and diverse housing, and mitigation of and preparation for climate change.

“The Housing Choice Initiative we announced today will ensure that Massachusetts remains a great place to live, raise a family, and grow a business by removing barriers to responsible housing development,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “The Commonwealth’s cities and towns are instrumental in our efforts to create more housing, and the Housing Choice Initiative will provide municipalities with the tools and incentives needed to drive meaningful housing production that is appropriate for their community, maximizes land-use and creates opportunities for smart development.”

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