End of Session Legal Update

August 8, 2022

- By The MAR Legal Team

And just like that, with the stroke of midnight on July 31st another successful two-year legislative session came to a peaceful close … or something like that. So, what really happened is: time stopped (officially) and the Legislature continued long into the night and following day. They reached landmark compromises on gun control, infrastructure bonding, mental health reform, and sports betting legalization legislation, but ultimately were unable to complete the economic development bill (H.5034/S.3030). Though that bill had seemed to be heading towards enactment over the last several months, recent discussion around a 1986 statute requiring the state to return certain surplus revenues to taxpayers created new concerns that Legislators were unable to resolve at the 11th hour.  

What did we support in the economic development bill? 

  • Increase viability of starter home zoning: Both the House and Senate versions included starter home district zoning changes, so it would have been in the final bill in some form. Starter home districts permit smaller homes on smaller lots, a form of housing the state desperately needs to better serve first-time homebuyers, seniors, and the workforce. Unfortunately, while this zoning type is best suited for suburban and rural areas, its current statutory home in the smart-growth law, which is best suited for more densely populated town centers and urban areas, stifled its usage. The bill would shift its statutory placement into a standalone law to unlock new housing development. 
  • Legalize accessory dwelling units (ADUs)s statewide: This was included in the Senate version of the bill, but not the House so was up for debate in conference. It would prohibit any city or town from banning accessory dwelling units, another housing option the state desperately needs. ADU’s, also known as in-law apartments, give homeowners the opportunity to create additional housing units in their home. They are ideal for seniors who want to age in place, homeowners who want to generate additional income, or anyone who wants greater access to some of Massachusetts most desirable communities that have zoned-out all multifamily development in favor of large single-family homes. 
  • Significant funding for housing assistance and development: Though funding differed significantly between the House ($175 million) and Senate ($400 million) versions, both provided important investments in housing development and assistance programs. One key program caught up in the bill is the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP). The Senate bill increased the annual cap on HDIP to $57 million for FY 2023 and $30 million each year thereafter. Such funding could unlock thousands of new units in Gateway Cities.
    Even if the full bill cannot be enacted, Legislative leaders have already suggested that the funding pieces may be accomplished during informal sessions. 


What happens to the bill now? 

The Legislature will face significant pressure to enact at least portions of the bill, which as noted above, they are already discussing. Noncontroversial spending aspects that could include tax relief and funding to support certain initiatives such as housing production, may be passed during informal session in coming weeks. The fate of policy portions of the bill, such as ADU or starter home district changes are murkier and would depend on whether there is universal agreement amongst Legislators. Another possibility would be for the Legislature to call a special formal session before the end of the year to pass the bill, though that presents its own challenges, especially in an election year when many Legislators will be campaigning. We will continue to work with legislative leaders to ensure that these important housing provisions are included in any pieces that do move forward.  

What about the rest of session? 

July 31st concluded a two-year session in which MAR successfully advocated on over one-hundred bills. We successfully blocked rent control, eviction moratoria, broker fee shifting, and nearly twenty transfer tax proposals, while continuing to build momentum around first-time homebuyer savings accounts, zoning reform to increase housing production, and fair housing education. We were successful in several extensions of remote online notarization and remote town meeting policies and nearly accomplished permanent solutions, which we will continue to work on in coming months and into next session. 

We also worked on the fiscal year 2023 budget throughout the past seven months as it made its way from the Governor to the House, the Senate, and then back to the Governor’s desk. The Governor signed it in part and offered amendments on July 28th, several of which the Legislature then overrode on July 31st. When the dust had settled, we were successful in achieving over $725 million in funding for housing, including near-doubling of the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program and an additional $20 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program. Both programs provide targeted assistance for renters in-need, and have been proven highly effective at helping to create tenancies and protect housing stability even in a tumultuous rental market. The budget also included a comprehensive quarry testing program to prevent future instances of pyrrhotite contamination, which is causing concrete foundations in many central and western Massachusetts homes to crumble.  

Now all eyes turn to Governor Baker, who has ten days to review the end of session bills passed by the Legislature and choose whether to sign them into law or veto them.