A Big Step for Multifamily Housing Production

December 17, 2021

- By The MAR Legal Team

MBTA Community Draft Zoning Guidance Released

Massachusetts REALTORS® have long championed the call to allow for more production of much-needed multifamily housing. With draft state guidance now available to cities and towns, it will soon be easier to build multifamily housing in many cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts.  

The state Department of Housing and Community Development has issued draft guidance around the “MBTA communities” section of the 2021 economic development bill, enacted in January.  

The legislation requires that MBTA communities, or the 175 municipalities identified in the legislation as receiving direct Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority service or adjacent to a municipality receiving direct service, have at least one district of a reasonable size where multifamily housing can be built as of right- meaning that the development is not subject to discretionary municipal special permitting decisions if it meets established requirements. 

The law requires that each municipality’s district meet the following standards: 

  • A minimum gross density of 15 units per acre 
  • Not more than one-half mile from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal, or bus station, if applicable 
  • No age restrictions 
  • Suitable for families with children 


The draft guidance further establishes standards for these districts, noting that all MBTA communities should contribute to the production of new housing stock. The 175 communities are further categorized based on the type of MBTA service that each receives. These categories include rapid transit community, bus service community, commuter rail community, and adjacent community with a formula for the district’s minimum required developable unit capacity tied to the total number of housing units in the community. 


Category   Minimum multi-family units as a percentage of total housing stock  
Rapid transit community   25%  
Bus service community   20%  
Commuter rail community   15%  
Adjacent community   10% 


Each MBTA community that does not already have a district meeting these requirements must begin the process of amending its zoning code. Municipalities must then submit a request for determination of compliance, or an action plan demonstrating how they will come into compliance, with the Department of Housing and Community Development by December 31, 2022. Municipalities that do not comply with the requirements of the law will lose access to some competitive state funding, including the popular MassWorks infrastructure grant program. 

The guidance is still in draft form so the public comment will be accepted by the Department of Housing and Community Development through March 31, 2022, and final guidance may be modified. 

Please reach out to Catherine Rollins, MAR Local Policy Manager, at crollins@marealtor.org with any questions or comments. As each MBTA community works through the implementation of this important zoning change, it presents an excellent opportunity for REALTORS® to engage locally to champion the importance of creating new home opportunities.