REALTOR® Advocate Update: Joint Committee on Housing Reports ‘Favorably’ on ‘Housing Choices’ Bill

December 21, 2019

- By Jonathan Schreiber

On Thursday, December 19, the Joint Committee on Housing reported favorably 23 bills including one of MAR’s top priorities this session, H.3507An Act to promote housing choices.

A favorable Committee report is a positive step on the long road to potential enactment.  Once a bill has been “favorably reported,” it enters what is known as the “Three Readings” process. In the first step of this process (First Reading), the bill is typically sent to the Committee on Steering and Policy or first to the Committee on Ways and Means if the bill involves money (and then to Steering and Policy). For more detail and further steps in the Legislative process, see the Legislature’s summary, “How an Idea Becomes a Law.”

Several of the bills receiving favorable reports increase housing production, one of MAR’s top policy objectives and the best way to combat Massachusetts’s longstanding housing affordability crisis. Here is a brief summary of those bills:

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

Bill(s): H.1250, H.1277, H.1282, S.788, S.820
Summary: Promote the production of ADUs by prohibiting special permit requirements or permitting municipalities to adopt ADU zoning districts. Several contain, or permit towns to adopt, significant limits on ADU use including limits on lot zoning and size, proscribing potential ADU users, and capping the total number of ADUs.

Cluster Development
Bill(s): S.787
Summary: Amends open space residential zoning requirements to permit increased production density in developable areas while preserving a percentage of contiguous land in its natural state.

Multifamily Housing Production
Bill(s): H.1281, S.779
Summary: H.1281 – Requires that at least 1.5% of developable land be zoned for multifamily development and eases density and other restrictions to further promote multifamily housing production.
S.779 – Creates a pilot program, incentivizing municipalities to create multifamily housing zoning districts with transportation infrastructure funding.

Municipal Voting
Bill(s): H.3507
Summary: One of MAR’s top legislative priorities for this session, the Housing Choices bill would amend local voting requirements from a two-thirds supermajority to a simple majority (50%+1) for 10 zoning changes that promote best practices for housing growth.

Production Goals
Bill(s): H.1318, H.1325, S.776
Summary: H.1318 – Establishes a new statewide goal of producing 427,000 new housing units by 2040.
H.1325 – Establishes a task force to recommend housing production and land preservation goals.
S.776 – Establishes a Commission to create regional housing goals to meet a statewide goal of at least 430,000 new units by 2030.

Single-Family Production
Bill(s): H.1285
Summary: Prohibits municipalities from adopting design standards for starter home districts.

Site Plan Review
Bill(s): H.1289, S.794
Summary: Outline building site plan review procedures and permit their adoption by municipalities.

Smart Growth
Bill(s): H.1280, H.1284
Summary: H.1280 – Applies simple majority voting to by-laws or ordinances creating smart growth or starter home zoning districts.
H.1284 – Adds starter home zoning districts to the definition of smart growth zoning districts for the purposes of calculating school cost reimbursements.

Zoning Reform
Bill(s): H.1290, H.1299
Summary: H.1290 – Includes several reforms to promote housing production including grants and loans supporting residential homeownership or rental housing, increasing “of-right” zoning for multifamily housing in certain districts, and requiring clustered development.
H.1299 – Permits municipalities to increase certain residential density.

Combo Bills
Bill(s): H.1251, H.1288, S.775, S.780
Summary: These bills combine several of the elements of the above bills in an effort to increase development. Elements of these bills include: increasing multifamily and transit-oriented development, easing zoning restrictions, changing municipal voting thresholds from 2/3 to simple-majority, permitting ADUs, and implementing smart growth principles.