To everyone feeling anger and grief

Below is a statement released yesterday by Smart Growth America CEO Calvin Gladney which we would like to share with you, co-signed by Executive Director Andre Leroux on behalf of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance.

To everyone who is feeling anger, sadness, frustration and grief right now: we see you and we hear you. We join you in grieving the recent senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other black Americans. Let us not only name their names in this tragic moment, but also call out the ongoing and historic inequities in America that have led to the outpouring of understandable anger and frustration that we see across the country.

Smart Growth America and the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance have one very foundational belief: Everyone deserves to live in a community that is healthy, equitable and resilient. These communities have housing their residents can afford, provide access to transportation options that affordably connect people to jobs and opportunities, and offer public spaces that anyone can safely enjoy.

Yet these past few weeks have painfully illuminated once again that this vision is out of reach for millions of Americans, for reasons that go beyond ongoing police violence. Decisions we have intentionally made about land use, transportation, and the built environment for decades have produced a system that is inherently unequal; where black and brown Americans are more likely to be struck and killed while walking, are less likely to own a home, are more likely to suffer from transportation-related air pollution that increases their chances of death from COVID-19, and—as we’ve seen again—are often targeted by the police in public spaces that are supposed to be for everyone. As a country, we need to do better, and we are committed to doing our part.

We know that many people are hurting right now, and that the most urgent work is to get immediate justice for the families and communities of the recently slain. We will contribute to this fight as best we can, but look to support other organizations who have led on this work for many years. We will also continue our work as well, to help ensure that every American, no matter who they are or where they live, can enjoy living in a place that is healthy, equitable, and resilient. We look forward to joining you in solidarity in today’s fight for justice, and in all the battles to come.

Calvin Gladney
President & CEO
Smart Growth America

Andre Leroux
Executive Director
Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance

Housing solutions that improve health

MSGA announces grants to 8 community organizations in Massachusetts

May 18, 2020

Last week, we shared with you how the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance will restructure and evolve. This week, we’d like to share an example of how the work will continue using a collaborative team approach.

In the fall, we launched a two-year project to implement housing solutions that improve health. Our work is supported by an award from the Kresge Foundation’s Advancing Health Equity and Housing initiative and will focus on the following goals:

  1. Maximize the role and voice of resident-led organizations in low-income and immigrant communities and communities of color to advance health equity through housing.
  2. Strengthen the connections between grassroots health, housing and environmental justice groups and statewide policy organizations.
  3. Advance state and local policy to:
    1. Increase housing stability by strengthening our tenant protection laws and systems so we can reduce evictions and displacement;
    2. Improve housing quality, especially in the Commonwealth’s aging housing stock in our Gateway Cities, to reduce negative health impacts caused by poor housing;
    3. Increase investment in affordable housing that meets the needs of families, individuals and seniors with low or modest incomes; 
    4. Increase the supply of well-designed mixed income housing located in walkable, vibrant, resilient communities with good access to transit and other amenities.

The pandemic makes the need for safe and secure housing for all Massachusetts residents even more critical. Residents understand the problems better than anyone, and community partners make sure that residents are part of the solution.

We committed $90,000 of our grant award to support local grassroots organizations leading important housing campaigns that can improve health. The COVID-19 emergency motivated us to accelerate the release of these funds so that they can support immediate efforts to help address the impact of the virus on the hardest hit communities.

Eight resident-led organizations will receive $11,250 each:

  • Alternatives for Community and Environment, Roxbury
  • Arise for Social Justice, Springfield
  • Boston Affordable Housing Coalition (MA Alliance of HUD Tenants), Boston
  • Coalition for Social Justice, Southeastern Massachusetts
  • Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, Dorchester
  • Green Roots, Inc., Chelsea & East Boston
  • Lawrence CommunityWorks, Lawrence
  • Worcester Interfaith, Worcester

Project descriptions can be found here. This initiative is led and supported by MSGA members, including the Massachusetts Public Health Association, Citizens Housing and Planning Association, Conservation Law Foundation, LISC Boston, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and Massachusetts Association of CDCs.


COVID-19 has shown us that where you live can determine how long you live. Safe, stable, and affordable housing is the cornerstone of physical and mental health. 

We’ve known this for some time. A 2012 study of Boston found that some parts of Roxbury had a life expectancy under 60 years old, while a mile away in the Back Bay, life expectancy was above 90 years old. Data from 2015 reflects this in Massachusetts as a whole: residents of a low-income neighborhood in New Bedford have an average life expectancy of 68 years old while residents of a wealthy neighborhood in Newton can expect to live beyond 94 years old.

Our communities are responsible for these unfair health differences far more than any individual behaviors. These larger conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age are called the social determinants of health.

In other words, the choices we have are shaped by the access to opportunities around us in terms of food, jobs, health care, schools, transportation, parks, safety, clean air, and more. Housing stability, safety, quality, cost, and location are the main pathways through which housing determines your health.

MSGA works to improve the built environment so that all residents can survive and thrive, but the housing crisis has made it much more difficult for everyone to stay healthy. Over the last few years, the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance has pursued a healthy aging agenda with grant support from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation. With this new project, that work is expanded.

“Decades of discriminatory housing, transportation, land-use policy and economic disinvestment have resulted in residential segregation by income, race, and ethnicity and created disparities that impact the health and well-being of people living in America’s cities,” said Stacey Barbas, senior program officer with the Kresge Foundation Health Program.

MSGA is a coalition comprised of the Conservation Law Foundation, Massachusetts Public Health Association, Citizens Housing and Planning Association, Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, American Society of Architects-Massachusetts Chapter, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Local Initiatives Support Corporation-Boston, and Environmental League of Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance works to protect critical natural resources and working landscapes; increase housing and transportation choices; promote healthy environments and climate resiliency; and support equitable community development. Our principal goal is to create more vibrant, racially diverse, mixed-income communities with good access to jobs, transportation, and open space. We believe that low-income and minority residents should have the power to shape the future of their community and benefit from its development.

Transition at the MA Smart Growth Alliance

Dear friends and supporters:

I’m writing on behalf of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance staff and Steering Committee to let you know about some important changes at the Alliance.  For some time now, our member groups and staff have planned an organizational transition starting June 30th of this year. 

COVID-19 has made our path stranger and more unsettling, but it also underscores the ongoing need to confront the housing crisis, racial inequity, and the climate emergency. All of our member organizations remain committed to these issues, and we all pledge to continue working on them within a new framework.

Let me give you the headlines and then I’ll go into more detail below. As of July 1st:

  1. The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance will continue to exist as a state policy coalition coordinated and staffed by its member organizations. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) will host MSGA for the next year.
  2. Our Great Neighborhoods program, with Anabelle Rondon’s ongoing leadership, will have a new home with LivableStreets Alliance.
  3. MSGA’s remaining staff, including myself, continue to explore new directions and employment opportunities. Our plans have been complicated by COVID-19, but I know our incredible team members will find ways to deepen their impact in the world.
  4. Over the next 12 months, MSGA member organizations will consult among themselves and with outside allies and funders to determine the appropriate path forward beyond June of 2021.

A sustainable Smart Growth Alliance

The Alliance includes eight member organizations: American Institute of Architects-Massachusetts, Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA), Conservation Law Foundation, Environmental League of Massachusetts, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC-Boston), Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, Massachusetts Public Health Association, and Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). 

Over the years, these organizations have built trust and shared learning. They value the opportunity to dialogue and collaborate on issues that cross the natural and built environments. Many times along the way, they recommitted to the Alliance, including during this time of transition. The Alliance will return to its roots as a tight-knit coalition managed and staffed by its members, which we hope will enable it to be financially sustainable for the long-term.

One example of the kind of collaborative project that will continue under MSGA is a recently launched two-year initiative on health equity and housing funded by the Kresge Foundation. In addition to policy work and engaging healthcare institutions on housing issues, the grant is supporting local grassroots organizations leading health-housing initiatives in communities across the state. You’ll hear more details from us soon.

Great Neighborhoods

We take a great deal of pride in our Great Neighborhoods (GN) program, which launched ten years ago to support community-driven planning and development in key locations around Greater Boston with funding from the Barr Foundation and the Ford Foundation. 

Since then, GN evolved into an organizing and advocacy platform that made zoning reform a top-tier policy issue, built a network of local activists fighting for better development in their communities, and has been bringing together housing, transportation, and climate advocates for networking and fun. We feel strongly that this great work should continue.

Anabelle and Great Neighborhoods have found a wonderful new home at LivableStreets Alliance. At LivableStreets, the program will have the support of a like-minded team of organizers that will help them to grow and flourish. We are grateful to the Barr Foundation for their support of GN in its new home.

New staff ventures

During my 12 years as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, I’ve worked passionately to reform land-use policies that drive economic inequality, housing scarcity, and pollution. 

Going forward, I seek opportunities to help communities and institutions confront these problems directly. This summer, I had hoped to help launch an antiracism consortium of planning schools with partners at Tufts, MIT, and elsewhere, but the COVID-19 crisis postponed those plans. We will continue to seek funding to revive it because dismantling the painful legacy of racism is essential to achieving inclusive decision-making and better development outcomes. In the meantime, our Planners of Color Network will live on with Great Neighborhoods and continue to move that agenda forward.

My colleagues are also actively pursuing their next steps. Larry Field hopes to continue working at the intersection of land use, transportation and climate policy. Dottie Fulginiti, as an elected Selectperson herself, would like to support local officials around the state in planning and executing successful smart growth campaigns in their communities. 

The depth and breadth of expertise in such a small team has been extraordinary.

Initial reflections and appreciation

I’ve been privileged to work with an intelligent and passionate group of nonprofit leaders and advocates for more than a dozen years. Between now and June 30, we’ll release stories about some key smart growth achievements as well as hopes for the future.

Through changing administrations and circumstances, MSGA successfully hardwired smart growth principles into many of the Commonwealth’s laws, programs, and investment decisions—something that was a radical notion in 2003 at the height of sprawl. It’s what we set out to achieve. We hope the organizational changes we make today will set the stage for new projects and partnerships to evolve.

We’ve had a great group of funders. The Barr Foundation supported the planning that led to our launch in 2003, and they have been our largest and most consistent funder ever since. We’re very grateful. And as I mentioned above, the Ford and Kresge Foundations have supported important multi-year projects.

Local foundations have been among our closest partners. The Tufts Health Plan Foundation made our initiatives on healthy aging and accessory dwelling units possible. The Boston Foundation supported policy work on zoning reform and expanding housing choices. The Herman and Frieda L. Miller Foundation was one of our most dedicated funders for many years, providing valuable operating support. The Garfield Foundation ensured that community development was at the smart growth table, and funded a Great Neighborhoods initiative in New Bedford. The Island Foundation and the Hyams Foundation both funded MSGA projects aligned with their missions.

This has been an exciting journey. While reflecting on my experience with MSGA and compiling information about our accomplishments over the years, I can say that I’m proud of all that we’ve done, the integrity with which we’ve done it, and most of all, the personal and organizational connections that we made.

We wish the best to you and your families. MSGA will continue to communicate with timely updates and we thank you for your ongoing support.

André Leroux

Executive Director

Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance

Act Now to Strengthen Transportation Bills

Housing, transportation and climate solutions are inherently linked. We’re pleased the House last week proposed new revenue and capital investments for our struggling transportation system. Now it’s your turn: please tell your state representative that these bills are a top priority for you and ask them to make the proposals even better with targeted amendments.

Stand with us now and tell the Massachusetts House to support comprehensive, statewide transportation funding

House 4508 (revenue) includes an increase in the gas tax (5 cents) and the Uber/Lyft single-occupancy fee, as well as raising minimum corporate taxes and closing a rental car sales tax loophole. House 4506 (bonding) authorizes borrowing for much-needed MBTA, regional bus/rural transit, and other capital investments.

We support targeted amendments championed by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) and Transportation for Massachusetts. Please ask your state representative to support these amendments:

  • Eliminate a provision that would reduce the gas tax if there is an interstate agreement on the transportation and climate initiative.  Amendments #32 and #37 (Rep Ciccolo).
  • Add language allowing cities & towns to raise and spend money for transportation, via a “regional ballot initiative” (#273 filed by Reps Vargas and Madaro) and/or a better version of the “Local Infrastructure Development Program” (#120 filed by Rep Barber).
  • Improve the proposed Congestion Commission by adding a Regional Planning Agency seat.  Amendment # 59 (Rep Meschino)
  • Do more to curb traffic congestion through provisions on smarter tolling (#12 filed by Rep Peisch and #81 by Rep Madaro, both amending House 4508).  Please add this to the list of amendments you support.

Click the button below to go to the action page and send a message to your State Rep.

Thank you for taking action to improve our transportation system!

Send a message to your State Rep

The Other Housing Choice

More than a bill, it’s a program that supports communities building housing
by Andre Leroux, Executive Director, MA Smart Growth Alliance

During the course of my work life, I’ll occasionally run into a consultant who helped draft a plan in a community I know well.

“I worked there about 15 years ago,” they might say. “It was a great process, lots of creative ideas, good engagement from the community. What ever happened to that?”

To which I’ll often respond: “You did a plan for that area?”

Over the last 30 years, Massachusetts policies have often encouraged and rewarded cities and towns for making plans to build housing. Unfortunately, many of the documents sit on shelves forgotten while the housing fails to get built. Given the bitter opposition of many homeowners to new apartments, good intentions haven’t translated into enough real homes outside Boston.

Origins of the Housing Choice Initiative

We at the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance have worked for years to modernize our state’s zoning laws, last updated in the mid-1970s. A key piece of that strategy has been to establish an incentive program for cities and towns to move beyond planning and build the units. In fact, the State Senate debated and passed a comprehensive zoning bill in June of 2016 that included this language:

“The secretary of housing and economic development… shall develop a municipal opt-in program to advance the state’s economic, environmental and social well-being through enhanced planning for economic growth, land conservation, workforce housing creation and mobility. The program shall include guidelines and criteria to evaluate municipal applications. Applications meeting program guidelines and criteria shall receive status as a certified community. Certified communities shall be entitled to certain privileges and powers and shall be required to provide certain incentives to benefit persons seeking local permits and local land use approvals.”

The comprehensive zoning bill didn’t survive the legislative session of 2016, but Governor Baker’s administration went ahead and created a similar program—the Housing Choice Initiative, launched in December of 2017. This was a major accomplishment.

Designation of communities

Since then, 79 cities and towns have become Housing Choice communities. Because the designation lasts for two years, the 69 municipalities that helped launch the program the first year in 2018 must now re-apply along with any new communities. The 2020 application period for HCI designation has just opened, and you can see here for details about how to apply.

One of the most appealing benefits of becoming a Housing Choice community is having exclusive access to the Housing Choice Capital Grant program, which makes awards of up to $250,000 from an annual pot of about $5 million. To address the different needs of rural communities, 20% of the total funding is reserved for towns with a population under 7,000 (max award $100,000).

In addition, Housing Choice communities receive special consideration for 9 other state capital programs: Clean Water Trust loans, MassWorks, Seaport Council Grants, Complete Streets, MassDOT capital projects, and Executive Office of Environmental Affairs programs including Planning, LAND, PARC, and Gateway City Park grants.

The Clean Water Trust perk is especially beneficial, since HCI municipalities obtain a discounted interest rate of 1.5% rather than 2.0% on their water infrastructure loans. By the calculations of HCI program director Chris Kluchman, the Housing Choice communities that have already taken advantage of this benefit will save an aggregate of $13 million over the life of their payments.

Kluchman has been pleased to find that most of the communities that have qualified for HCI designation have done so by increasing their housing stock at least 5% or 500 units over the last 5 years. Other communities may also qualify by having a 3% or 300 unit increase in the last 5 years in addition to meeting a certain number of best practices (including some that advance affordability).

The impact

“There’s been a huge amount of energy around housing,” says Kluchman. “The Boston Globe and regional papers have had a lot of coverage about housing issues. Regional Planning Agencies and communities have been creating housing production plans. There are beefy conversations around housing and the Housing Choice program participates in those in a helpful way.”

To help communities access the resources they need to be successful, Kluchman leads an interagency working group to coordinate technical assistance. Meanwhile, she herself has made over 85 presentations to local audiences around the state to educate them about the HCI, best practices, and state housing resources.

Governor Baker has set a state goal of 135,000 new homes from 2018-2025, which comes out to an average of 16,875 each year. The first year’s numbers for 2018 came to 17,044, which met the target by a whisker. The housing permit data comes from the Census, although those figures may not be entirely accurate because of variations in the way communities report their data as well as human error in counting. Kluchman’s own testing of the numbers suggest an undercount of 10-15%, which could indicate that we’re doing a little better than the Census numbers suggest.

“I think we’re doing okay,” says Kluchman. One concern is that despite the historic housing market, we’re barely hitting the average number, so any economic slowdown may make it difficult to achieve. Even without newcomers to the state, we need additional housing units to accommodate older residents who are downsizing, new families looking for their first home, and to halt rising prices.

During the first two years of the Housing Choice Initiative, 61 capital grant awards totaling nearly $10 million have been made (including 21 to rural towns) and have helped create 800 housing units. The funding can support improvements not covered by developer mitigation fees. For example, many projects use the awards to improve sidewalk connectivity and pedestrian safety around the new housing. Other uses have included park improvements, public safety equipment, water and sewer upgrades, design and engineering services, and even a community visioning process.

Next steps for the program

When I ask Kluchman what would make the HCI program more impactful, she brings up the Governor’s Housing Choices bill, which has languished in the Legislature for two years despite support from the Mass Municipal Association, real estate trade associations, Chambers of Commerce, and affordable housing and environmental advocates like the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance.

“I would love to see the legislation passed,” she said. “I think that would help communities across the state think more about housing, increase conversations, and enable them to enact solutions more easily.”

The Housing Choices bill has no municipal requirements, but makes it easier for them to adopt nine best practices by a simple majority vote rather than a super majority. The best practices include multifamily zoning in smart growth locations, accessory dwelling units, reducing parking requirements, and clustering development to preserve open space. The bill would also make it easier to approve mixed-income housing projects that include at least 10% affordable housing.

Email us if you’d like to advocate for the Housing Choices bill.

There are other ways to extend the impact of the program. Additional support and funding for local planning and zoning improvements, which could be provided by the Legislature, could help cities and towns direct growth to sensible locations. There are some existing programs (including some for which HC communities receive priority consideration) but more is needed.
Finally, a peer support network of planners around housing issues could help increase capacity, knowledge, and savvy of housing laws and regulations across the Commonwealth. This could be combined with access to training opportunities and technical assistance.

Which communities are proactive?

I was curious to know where the Housing Choice communities are located and what it could tell us about housing around the state.

“It was really clear when we first put out the map that I-495 is where it’s at,” said Kluchman. “There’s a lot of growth, solid school systems, lot of demand in variety of ways. But that belt includes many revitalizing Gateway Cities as well.”

In terms of absolute numbers of units, Boston and surrounding communities continue to produce the majority of the state’s housing units, particularly apartments. But the 495 belt is experiencing the highest rate of growth. Other clusters of Housing Choice communities indicate that Worcester and its suburbs are a strong market, as are the college towns in the Pioneer Valley. Towns on Cape Cod and the Islands are adopting many best practices since those communities struggle to provide year-round housing that is affordable to their residents.

One part of the map stands out for what you don’t see. The band along Rte 128 looks almost empty of Housing Choice communities. Those communities have a lot of jobs, well-financed schools, and are not far from Boston. But there’s not a lot of housing production.

Apply for Housing Choice

The online application for designation as a Housing Choice Community is open from now until 3:00 p.m. on Monday, March 23, 2020. 

Here is the link to the ONLINE application form. You can also find a .pdf copy of the application on the web page that you can use for planning purposes. The application must be submitted through the online form.

Housing Choice Community (HCC) designation status lasts for two years, so if your community was designated in 2018, you must re-apply in 2020 to maintain your designation status. Most communities will need to re-apply this year.

The advantages of being designated as a Housing Choice Community include:

  • Eligibility for exclusive Capital Grants
  • Special consideration for 9 other state capital programs (Clean Water Trust loans, MassWorks, Seaport Council Grants, Complete Streets, MassDOT capital projects, Energy and Environmental Affairs Planning, LAND and PARC and Gateway City Park grants)

To find out more about Housing Choice Communities and past grant awards,visit the Housing Choice web page. The Fiscal Year 2021 grant process will begin in spring/summer 2020. If you have any questions about your community’s eligibility or the application, please contact Housing Choice Program Director Chris Kluchman at 617-573-1167.

Donate to MSGA

The State of Zoning for Multi-family Housing in Greater Boston

How thousands of pages add up to a housing deficit

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance is pleased to announce the release of “The State of Zoning for Multi-family Housing in Greater Boston,” the culmination of a two-year research project by Amy Dain of Dain Research that we commissioned in collaboration with MassHousing, Massachusetts Housing Partnership, Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA), Massachusetts Association of Realtors, Homebuiders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).

See the report here.

You’ve heard study after study explain that housing production lags far behind what we need to keep our housing costs reasonable. From 2010 to 2017, Greater Boston added 245,000 new jobs but only permitted 71,600 new units of housing. As a result, one quarter of all renters in Massachusetts now spend more than 50% of their income on housing. Our housing costs continue to rise faster than New York or California.

But this is not another one of those studies. Over the last two years, researcher Amy Dain has systematically reviewed the bylaws, ordinances, and plans for the 100 cities and towns around Boston to uncover how local zoning affects multifamily housing and why we’re failing.

It’s an amazing piece of work.

Although it seems like we’re building more housing than ever before—and we are the fastest growing state in the Northeast—Massachusetts builds only half of the homes that we did each year in the 1970s when our economy was stagnant.

This comprehensive report answers important new questions:
Where can new housing be built around the region?
How do we make decisions about development projects?

What we have we done to get to this point, and what can we do about it?

Here are Amy’s four principal findings, along with her takeaways.

1) Very little land is zoned for multi-family housing.

For the most part, local zoning keeps new multi-family housing out of existing residential neighborhoods, which cover the majority of the region’s land area.

In addition, cities and towns highly restrict the density of land that is zoned for multi-family use via height limitations, setbacks, and dwelling units per acre. Many of the multi-family zones have already been built out to allowable densities, which mean that although multi-family housing is on the books, it does not exist in practice.

At least a third of the municipalities have virtually no multi-family zoning or plan for growth.

Takeaway: We need to allow concentrated density in multi-family zoning districts that are in sensible locations and allow for incremental growth over a larger area.

2) We are moving to a system of project-by-project decision-making.

Unlike much of the rest of the country, Massachusetts does not require communities to update their zoning on a regular basis and make it consistent with local plans. Although state law ostensibly requires municipalities to update their master plans every ten years, the state does not enforce this provision and most communities lack up-to-date plans.

Instead, the research documents a trend away from predictable zoning districts and toward “floating districts,” project-by-project decision-making, and discretionary permits. Dain found that 57% of multi-family units approved in the region from 2015-2017 were approved by special permit, 22% by 40B (including “friendly” 40B projects), 7% by use variance, and only 14% by “as-of-right” zoning.

There also seems to be a trend toward politicizing development decisions by shifting special permit granting authority to City Council and town meeting. The system emphasizes ad hoc negotiation, which in some cases can achieve a more beneficial project. Yet the overall outcome is a slower, more expensive development process that produces fewer units. Approving projects one by one inhibits the critical infrastructure planning and investments needed to support the growth of an entire district.

Takeaway: We would be better served by a system that retains the benefits of flexibility while offering more speed and predictability.

3) The most widespread trend in zoning for multi-family housing has been to adopt mixed-use zoning.

83 of out of 100 municipalities have adopted some form of mixed-use zoning, most in the last two decades. There is a growing understanding that many people, both old and young, prefer to live in vibrant downtowns, town centers and villages, where they can easily walk to some of the amenities that they want. Malls, plazas and retail areas are increasingly incorporating housing and becoming lifestyle centers.

Yet with few exceptions, the approach to allowing housing in these areas has been cautious and incremental. These projects are only meeting a small portion of the region’s need for housing and often take many years of planning to realize. In addition, the challenges facing the retail sector can make a successful mixed-use strategy problematic. Commercial development tends to meet less opposition than residential development, even in mixed-use areas.

Takeaway: We need more multi-family housing in and around mixed-use hubs, but not require every project to be mixed-use itself.

4) Despite their efforts, communities continue to build much more new housing on their outskirts rather than in their town centers and downtowns.

About half of the communities in the study permitted some infill housing units in their historic centers, but her case studies show that these infill projects are modest in scale and can take up to 15 years to plan and permit.

On the other hand, many more units are getting built in less-developed areas with fewer abutters. This includes conversion of former industrial properties, office parks, and other parcels disconnected from the rest of the community by highways, train tracks, waterways or other barriers. This much-needed housing can be isolated even when dense, and still car-dependent because of limited access to public transportation and lack of walkability.

As Amy Dain says, “We permit tens of units in the centers, and hundreds on peripheries.”

Takeaway: We need to allow more housing in historic centers as well as incremental growth around those centers. Furthermore, we need to plan an integrated approach to growth districts so that they can be better connected to the community and the region.

Thank you for reading! On the report webpage, you can find:
Amy Dain’s PowerPoint presentation and notes that tell the story of her findings
An 11 page Executive Summary
The full 123 page report
Last year’s report on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

A progressive case for Housing Choice

For more than ten years, the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance and our member organizations have been leading voices for progressive zoning reform on Beacon Hill. Our efforts to improve outdated development laws have included proposals to make it illegal for cities and towns to discriminate in zoning and permitting decisions, to require all communities to build their fair share of apartments, and to allow accessory apartments across the state.

In 2016, we worked closely with the state Senate to pass a sweeping zoning and housing bill that included all of those remarkable items after a difficult and lengthy debate. Yet more than two years later, none of it has been enacted into law because some of the provisions were steadfastly opposed by real estate interests, while others were equally opposed by some lobbyists for cities and towns. We were deadlocked.

Eighteen months ago, Governor Baker unveiled a proposal to help break the stalemate. The Housing Choice initiative included a program to incentivize communities to build more housing—which is already being implemented—as well as a companion piece of legislation, called the Housing Choice bill, which did not get taken up for a vote last session.

We know there is much to be done. But the Governor’s bill itself represents a significant and progressive step forward in land-use and housing reform. In our view, here are some of the benefits:

  1. It creates a powerful incentive for private developers to build affordable housing.

In Greater Boston (and probably elsewhere in the state), most multifamily housing (3+ units) is built through “special permits,” which can be unpredictable, expensive, and difficult to secure, requiring a supermajority local vote to be approved. The Housing Choice bill allows developments including at least 10% affordable housing in smart growth locations to be approved by a simple majority. This would be a powerful new incentive for market-rate developers to include affordable units in their projects that would not be built otherwise. This will be especially helpful in encouraging developers to propose new mixed-income housing in the many towns that have no affordable housing requirements and limited number of apartments. This provision was recommended by the Alliance and incorporated into the bill by the Housing Committee, chaired by Rep. Kevin Honan and Sen. Joe Boncore, before it was reported out favorably. Governor Baker chose to include this provision in the Housing Choice bill he filed this year.

  1. It will help more towns in Massachusetts produce their fair share of housing, gradually reducing the pressure on overheated communities like Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville.

More communities need to step up and build the housing that we all need. In the seven years after the Great Recession in 2008, Boston alone built 37% of all the apartments constructed in Massachusetts. Together, the top ten cities and towns produced nearly two-thirds of the state’s apartments. Yet these are the same places suffering the most from the housing crisis. To address the long-term dysfunction of our housing market, we need more of the surrounding communities to do their part and house a fair share of the region’s growth. However, it is notoriously difficult to pass zoning and permitting for apartments in many communities even with the support of planning staff and their elected and appointed local officials. This is especially true in communities with a Town Meeting form of government. The Housing Choice bill will restore majority-rules democracy and level the playing field across the region.

  1. It incentivizes climate-friendly development.

The Housing Choice bill includes locational criteria that will make it easier for municipalities to update their zoning and allow more apartments and mixed-use in smart growth locations like neighborhood and town centers, transit-accessible districts, and existing commercial corridors, but not in locations that encourage traffic-inducing sprawl. Furthermore, the bill allows communities to adopt Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs and promotes Open Space Residential Design, which clusters homes and preserves open space. Just as importantly, Housing Choice makes it easier for cities and towns to bring their parking requirements in line with economic and environmental reality. Limiting asphalt can help reduce flooding, while reducing unnecessary parking makes development less expensive and discourages air and water polluting sprawl.

  1. It supports age-friendly, walkable neighborhoods.

Housing Choice makes it easier for cities and towns to adopt accessory dwelling unit (ADU) ordinances, which allow homeowners to create small, affordable housing units in their single-family homes. The AARP and public health organizations have identified ADUs as a critical priority for seniors because they allow family members or caretakers to live on site so that seniors can age in place. But ADUs benefit everyone, because more families need flexible, multi-generational living arrangements, and they allow homeowners—especially seniors on fixed incomes—to collect modest rental income while dealing with with increases in the cost of living. Additionally, by encouraging compact development in smart growth locations as mentioned above, zoning changes and special permits facilitated by Housing Choice can help communities become more walkable over time—the cheapest, most equitable way to get around and maintain an active lifestyle.

  1. It begins to address an underlying cause of our state’s racial and economic segregation.

The last two times we had an affordable housing crisis in our region, we solved it with waves of “double-deckers” and “triple-deckers” early in the 1900s; and then with apartment buildings in the 1960s and 70s. These solutions, which housed large numbers of low-income residents and immigrants, are impossible today because of restrictive zoning. I would contend that single-family zoning requiring large lots is the number one driver of racial and economic segregation in Massachusetts. Not only does it make homeownership too expensive for renters, it has throttled apartment production—we build only half of the apartments that we used to 40 years ago. This housing market dysfunction lies at the heart of racial wealth inequality and lack of social mobility. Housing Choice will enable renters and people of color, a minority of the population in almost every municipality, to have a more meaningful voice in development decision-making and open up more neighborhoods where they could live.

  1. Without progress on this bill, political leaders and major stakeholders are unlikely to tackle the more challenging issues of affordability, displacement pressures, tenant protections, and transit justice.

The Governor took a risk making housing and zoning a priority, and we applaud and encourage him for that stance. Of course, we’ve been clear that we need to do much more to tackle the housing crisis in our communities.

Here are three additional victories that are within reach this session:

  1. There is a historic opportunity to secure new revenue for affordable housing. The House has proposed increasing deeds fees on real estate transactions to increase the state’s match to communities participating in the Community Preservation Act, unlocking millions of dollars that could be used for local affordable housing projects.
  2. More significantly, we can build on Gov. Baker’s climate proposal to leverage real estate transactions to generate funds for climate adaptation projects. Affordable housing should be part of the equation and the transfer fees could potentially raise over $100 million in new funds annually.
  3. Then there’s transit justice. With transportation reform coming up this year, fair fares for riders would go a long way to making affordable housing throughout the region more accessible. It is not feasible nor reasonable for low-income residents in our Gateway Cities to pay $4000 per year for commuter rail.

We understand that Housing Choice does not directly remedy segregation and displacement, both vital issues requiring new tools and solutions. That is why we also support important tenant protections like the right to counsel in order to prevent evictions; incentives and requirements for more communities to build apartments; and a new anti-discrimination law that would make it illegal for communities to exclude low-income people through zoning and permitting.

Unfortunately, outside of the Senate’s historic vote in June of 2016, passing a comprehensive zoning reform bill has proven impossible.

We shouldn’t give up. But we should take advantage of this unique moment and pass the Governor’s Housing Choice proposal to take an important step toward our goal.


The membership of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance includes organizations working on housing, environment, planning, design and public health.

Register for the Pioneer Valley Smart Growth Summit

Pioneer Valley Smart Growth Summit

“Strategies for thriving in an era of climate crisis and inequality”

Gateway City Arts

92 Race Street, Holyoke

May 9

8 am to noon

Join us for a dialogue about busting silos to address climate change and inequality! The program will be designed to get leaders across communities and issues challenging each other to solve some of the critical challenges facing the Pioneer Valley.

Initial speakers confirmed include:

  • Mayor Nicole LaChappelle, Easthampton
  • Laura Marx, Forest Ecologist, The Nature Conservancy
  • Marcos Marrero, Director of Planning and Economic Development, Holyoke
  • Rick Sullivan, President and CEO of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts

Register and find out more here:

Statement on Governor Baker’s Housing Choice Bill

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance supports Governor Baker’s Housing Choice bill.

We can’t confront our housing and climate crises without local zoning changes, so we hope to see the Legislature fast-track Housing Choice in 2019. We appreciate the Governor’s support for including in his bill a key reform drafted by the Joint Committee on Housing that will encourage developers to include more of the affordable homes that our state desperately needs.

Of course, passing Housing Choice is not the end of efforts to make Massachusetts more affordable and livable for all of its residents. It’s just the beginning.

Our cities and towns are struggling with a range of housing challenges. Ongoing dialogue among key stakeholders could lead to further progress on expanding affordability and multifamily housing near public transportation, reducing construction and legal costs, improving local planning and rezoning, curbing sprawl, and accelerating the production of accessory apartments.

These are too many issues to address in a single bill, which is why the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance has not filed comprehensive legislation this year. Instead, we believe that the Legislature and Administration should advance Housing Choice immediately and other initiatives opportunistically over the next 18 months.

One way of navigating this complex landscape has been suggested by Sen. Harriette Chandler. Rather than bog down Housing Choice until the end of the two-year session, she recommends establishing a joint House and Senate task force that could more fully address the housing issues raised by legislators, with the goal of making some additional recommendations for action. This could give legislators and advocates the opportunity to dialogue and build support for creative solutions.

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance is committed to housing equity and acknowledges that additional action will be needed on the following issues:

  1. New revenues for affordable housing.Ideas include a transfer fee on real estate transactions, an increased state match for Community Preservation Act, an income tax surcharge, or appropriating a larger annual chunk of the Housing Bond bill authorization passed last year. There needs to be discussion about how to preserve and increase affordable housing during this critical window of time.
  2. Fighting neighborhood displacement and regional segregation.We will support efforts led by low-income residents and communities of color to reduce displacement. The right to counsel in eviction proceedings would be a good place to start, since research has consistently shown that this investment leads to more positive outcomes and prevents homelessness. In addition, we strongly support actions to eliminate discrimination in housing, zoning and permitting decisions.
  3. Transit justice and neighborhood stabilization.While some communities suffer from overheated markets, other parts of the state continue to deal with vacancy and deterioration. Many of the low-income people displaced from the Boston area have been forced to relocate to smaller cities with less expensive housing, but which have poor public transportation connecting them to jobs and services. We need to make sure that transit service is convenient and affordable. The state should also pursue targeted reforms and investments to strengthen our older neighborhoods to ensure that they can thrive as mixed-income communities with a good quality of life.

We look forward to working with all parties to finally make progress on our deep housing crisis.

André Leroux

Executive Director

Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance

YIMBYtown and homes for all

A terrific team of local volunteers, with support from the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, CHAPA, and other groups, recently organized and hosted Boston YIMBYtown 2018, a national conference of pro-housing activists. Over 320 participants registered for part or all of the four-day gathering.

The theme of the conference was equity and inclusion. Many of the Greater Boston activists have begun to identify as YIMBYs in order to combat local opposition to housing—especially affordable housing—that is too often motivated by a desire to keep low-income residents and people of color out of their communities. Massachusetts housing numbers show that only a small number of cities and towns are building the housing that the whole region needs. As a result of this systemic discrimination, we are now one of the most segregated regions in the United States.

However, there is increasing concern and backlash from low-income residents in Boston and elsewhere that today’s overheated market is pushing them out of their neighborhoods. A main topic of conversation at YIMBYtown was how to navigate these tricky politics and be respectful of differences among communities. There was a strong consensus among conference participants that the YIMBY movement needs to support local residents who are fighting displacement; promote more mixed-income and affordable housing; and fight for development and density in high-income neighborhoods that are excluding others.

A tremendous line-up of speakers addressed these issues and others, such as: understanding what “equity” really means and how to center it in your organization; how to promote affordable homeownership and build community wealth for low-income residents; how to tap into your personal experience to build connections with people from different backgrounds; and how to connect to affordable housing resources and campaigns. Speakers included:


In addition, the conference planning committee secured scholarship funding so that local residents and others from around the country could attend at little or no cost.

These issues came to the fore when City Life/Vida Urbana and other local neighborhood groups came to Roxbury Community College with about 80 residents and activists (and a marching band!) to protest the rampant development of “luxury” housing in and around their neighborhoods. They took the stage and issued a challenge to the YIMBY movement to acknowledge their pain, recognize their leadership, and call on individuals to sign a pledge supporting their values and goals. They were respectful, we were respectful, and it was important to face residents directly. The local planning team hopes to continue the dialogue and find opportunities to support their work and collaborate.

Follow the conversation from the conference (and beyond) on Twitter using the hashtag #YIMBYtown or #YIMBY. We will continue to post photos, powerpoints, and other materials on the conference website as they become available.

Check out these thoughtful participant reflections from the conference:

And this selected news coverage:

Finally, the conference ended with a powerful panel of officials title “Beyond our Backyards,” including Sheila Dillon of the City of Boston, Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern, and DHCD Undersecretary Janelle Chan, moderated by Dana LeWinter from CHAPA. You can see the watch the panel filmed by CCTV here.

Learn more about Community Benefit Districts (CBDs)

Why do we need Community Benefit Districts (CBDs)?

CBDs solve a problem: cities and towns don’t have the resources to support the 18-hour management of our state’s downtowns, main streets and village centers. These “live, work, and play” areas need more attention and resources than residential neighborhoods. They may need street furniture, arts programming, daily trash collection, branding and marketing, and much more. Local government can’t do this alone, and CBDs can help by establishing a supportive public-private-nonprofit partnership.

These “management districts” are run by a nonprofit organization with community governance. They empower local people, businesses, and organizations to get involved in addressing the community’s needs. CBDs promote civic collaboration, long-term revitalization, and private and nonprofit investment in the community. They also create new local jobs and invigorate small business districts. 

Example of district management: Rose Kennedy Greenway

Today’s urban spaces are complicated. The Rose Kennedy Greenway is a prime example. The Big Dig created a series of world-class park spaces that require world-class management. Despite the involvement of the Commonwealth, the City of Boston, deep-pocketed real estate abutters, and parks advocates, no single stakeholder could take on the job and it was quickly becoming unsustainable.

The long-term solution was to create a Business Improvement District. After a thorough outreach effort to property owners around the Greenway, a management plan and budget was developed. 82% of abutters signed the petition, representing 89% of the total $1.5 million budget. The Boston City Council held a hearing, deliberated, and established the BID in April of 2018. The parks are managed by the Greenway Conservancy, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization that holds a long-term lease from MassDOT.

On a smaller scale, the CBD bill would make creative, home-grown partnerships within reach of more cities and towns throughout the state for their own brand of problem-solving. We need new tools and financing mechanisms so that our communities can sustain themselves and thrive.

How is a CBD different from a Business Improvement District (BID)?

They are very similar. Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) were originally developed in the 1970s to keep local downtowns attractive and competitive as they lost population and competed with regional malls. Massachusetts adopted a BID statute in the mid-1990s and now there are currently seven BIDs in the state (Downtown Crossing-Boston, Springfield, Amherst, Taunton, Hyannis, Hudson and the Rose Kennedy Greenway), with one or two more in development.

Thankfully, times have changed. From Boomers to Millennials, people of all ages want to live in walkable and vibrant places that offer a mix of amenities like jobs, shops, services, restaurants and culture. As a result, more communities need district management than ever before.

But these districts are harder to establish in Massachusetts than other parts of the country. We have 7 BIDs in the entire state, while Washington, DC alone has 10 districts, New York City has 75 BIDs, and California has more than 300 CBDs. We’ve heard the need for a new tool that would help more communities participate here, especially towns and Gateway Cities.

Based on interviews with existing BIDs and local officials, along with research into best practices across the country, the CBD bill includes several key changes compared to BIDs:

  1. 75% of the area does not need to be zoned or used for commercial, industrial, retail or mixed use;
  2. The petition requirements are more in line with the rest of the country;
  3. Renewal at least every 10 years;
  4. Management by a nonprofit corporation regulated as a charity; and
  5. Emphasis on a public-private-nonprofit partnership.

Some communities may find the BID model more to their liking, whereas others will find that CBD addresses their needs.

Didn’t we pass this already? Does the Governor support it?

Yes and yes. Governor Baker and Secretary Jay Ash have publicly supported the latest version of the Community Benefit Districts bill and believe that it can be a helpful tool for communities. The Legislature originally passed Community Benefit District language as part of the 2016 Economic Development Act, and then again as part of the FY2018 budget last year. The language was vetoed the first time, and sent back with amendments the second time. Months of detailed negotiations among Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Rep/Sen. Brendan Crighton, and Sec. Jay Ash resulted in the current version acceptable to all parties.

Is this a tax?

No. A tax is a compulsory payment that goes into the government’s coffers to be budgeted by local officials for general use. 

A CBD (or BID) fee is a payment from property owners that pays for services that directly benefit those same property owners. The fee can only be used to implement the management plan that was proposed by local stakeholders and approved by local officials, and nothing else. A better comparison is a condo association, where property owners are joined through an organization to carry out a management plan and levy fees on themselves to pay for the improvement budget. 

Fees are based on formulas agreed upon during the formation process. A property owner who receives less benefit pays less. This is completely different than property taxes, where there is no connection between what an owner pays and the service that is received.

But isn’t this compulsory?

When the BID law was created, participation was optional. However, it didn’t work. That is why the Legislature already addressed this issue in 2012 by closing the loophole and eliminating the opt-in provision for BIDs.

No district management law in the country is “opt-in,” because there would be no incentive for anyone to voluntarily participate. Again, it is similar to a condo association. Although forming a condo association is optional at the beginning, it doesn’t work unless everyone does their part. It is not fair for one owner to pay for the whole roof, for example. But also like condo associations, the CBD has to function despite a small number of owners who may be reluctant participants, or who refuse to pay their share. It can be challenging.

That being said, the CBD fee is mandatory only for some classes of property owners. Nonprofits and public agencies have to decide when the district is created whether they will participate or not, and they are also allowed the flexibility to participate through in-kind contributions rather than payments if that makes it easier—a church could offer the use of community space for meetings, for example. Low-income residents who qualify for property tax relief are automatically exempted. And residential property owners may also be exempted from the fee formula.

Finally, individual hardship waivers are allowed on an annual basis. There is no desire to place undue strain on a resident, small business, non-profit, or other property owner.

Does the petition process favor large property owners?

The proposed CBD statute carefully balances the interests of large and small property owners. On the one hand, the CBD petition process is easier than the BID petition because there is only one threshold to meet: the petition has to be signed by property owners who will pay at least 50% of the district’s budget.

This is in line with other states. For example, California’s petition requirement only requires a 30% threshold in order to be considered for public approval and adoption, and New Jersey doesn’t require a petition at all—just a vote by the local governing body.

The CBD proposal makes good sense. Most commercial areas have a small number of property owners who own a large percentage of the property. It is crucial for them to approve the management plan and agree to pay their share before going too far in the process.

At the same time, CBD establishes new protections for property owners that the BID law doesn’t have. The CBD petition caps the share of a large property owner at 40% when calculating the petition threshold, so no one property owner can meet the petition requirement on his or her own. If a district is composed of four property owners or fewer, all must sign the petition. There is also new disclosure language to prevent large property owners from hiding any controlling interests across multiple real estate entities.

But the petition is just one step in the process, and it is not even the most effective way to protect the interests of small property owners. Both BIDs and CBDs require a public hearing and a vote by the local governing body. CBD goes further by also requiring approval by the mayor or, in towns with less than 10,000 population, the town meeting. The proposed bill requires CBD entities to comply with nonprofit reporting requirements and state oversight, and also requires a detailed management plan to be approved by the local governing body, including disclosing the initial board of directors, the staffing plan, and organizational by-laws. The management plan must by updated at least every three years.

These districts can be dissolved at the initiative of participating property owners, and must be renewed at least every ten years.

Isn’t this what local government should be doing?

The definition of “supplemental services” in the CBD bill is crystal clear that they are “in addition to” standard services provided by the municipality. They do not replace them. This is the accepted practice for over 1000 management districts across the country and is how BIDs have been implemented in Massachusetts without a problem for 20 years.

CBD funds can only be spent on the approved management plan approved by the local governing body. In addition, the CBD proposal goes further than the existing BID statute by authorizing the local municipal executive to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the district that spells out in writing what standard services are currently provided by the municipality and what will be done by the CBD, so that there is a baseline and documentation of the respective roles and responsibilities.

Does this threaten labor or privatize public sector jobs?

As mentioned above, CBD can only offer “supplemental municipal services” and not “standard municipal services” that are already provided by the city or town where the district is located. That means that no public sector jobs are threatened and cannot be replaced by private contractors.

The most labor-friendly cities and states in the country use district management tools successfully. As already mentioned, New York City alone has about 75 BIDs, DC has at least 10 and California has over 300 CBDs. By coordinating private property owners and encouraging community investments, district management helps government generate more robust property, sales, and income tax revenues. These flow into public coffers and support the salaries of public sector employees. It is a partnership that works and makes the pie bigger.

CBDs are independent non-profit organizations, so it would be an unprecedented move to impose labor conditions or other extraordinary regulations on them and would create an enormous backlash from the entire non-profit sector. However, they are subject to the same level of public oversight and reporting as any other non-profit organization at the state and federal level. In fact, the CBD is even required to reimburse the municipality for any expenses in creating the district, if the municipality so desires.

The BID statute has operated for the past 20 years without any discernable labor tensions. Nor are we aware of such problems in other parts of the country. Like Main Streets organizations, they are good municipal partners that serve a civic agenda.

Will this violate our civil liberties or cede control of public land? 

The proposed CBD statute does not give police power to the districts. A walk through Boston’s Downtown Crossing (one of our 7 BIDs) illustrates the role of a district entity in promoting vibrant, diverse public places. All of our state and national laws remain in place regarding the right to assemble, speak publicly, or otherwise use public space. Agreements with third-part entities to manage public facilities are common and would be no different if partnering with a CBD or BID. Public ownership of parkland, sidewalks, or other public areas would be retained.

In fact, districts play a positive role in ensuring that more members of the community can access and enjoy that public space, by offering events, music, arts, seating and other amenities.

Districts work cooperatively with local governments. By having more eyes on the street and feet on the ground, they help keep our busiest places safe by alerting police and emergency personnel to emerging situations. They can also provide important outreach to individuals suffering from homelessness, addiction, or mental health challenges in a systematic and humane way by creating programs and partnerships with other local organizations. This is an improvement on the status quo where these individuals are usually engaged only in times of conflict and crisis.

Boston-Area Communities Should Loosen Restrictions for Accessory Dwelling Units

BOSTON—A review of 100 cities and towns around (but not including) Boston finds that loosening local zoning laws to allow for the development of more accessory dwelling units (ADUs) would help ease the region’s housing shortage without creating any significant problems, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute in partnership with the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance.

Read the full study here >

The human cost of bad zoning: Meet Bryan Bryson

Every day marks a step closer to the end of the 2018 legislative session on July 31. Over the next two weeks, we’ll be telling the stories of people across the Commonwealth who can’t wait for vibrant, affordable communities.

Help us broadcast their stories by sharing them with your friends, legislators, and local officials. Encourage them to help pass a Great Neighborhoods bill now. We’ll post one story each day–find them at and at #GreatNeighborhoodsMA.

Today, let me introduce you to Bryan.

“My name is Bryan Bryson, I’m a proud resident and community member of Dorchester.  I’m also an MIT Professor.

I’m here today to tell you the story of being priced out of my neighborhood in Cambridge where I lived for a number of years.  And to say that if this is happening to me, a professor making a very good salary, imagine how it’s impacting teachers, nurses, and other working families throughout our Commonwealth…”

Click here to read Bryan’s full story and share it on social media.

Much of our state’s zoning hasn’t been updated in decades. This is one of the reasons why our cities and towns haven’t been building the kinds of housing that would enable more young families and seniors to stay in their communities.

For example, Massachusetts needs more apartments. Boston alone has built more than a third of the state’s apartments in the last seven years, and just ten communities have built nearly two-thirds. That means that the remaining 341 cities and towns combined have built only one-third of the state’s apartments–nowhere near enough to maintain stable vacancy rates and prices.

A Great Neighborhoods bill will make it easier for communities to update their zoning, make development less contentious and expensive, and create more housing choices that will help stabilize prices in the region.

Learn more and take action at

82 State Reps Call for Zoning Reform

Thanks to an outreach effort that included more than 450 activists from around the state, we are pleased to report that 82 state representatives signed on to a letter asking the Speaker to prioritize passing a Great Neighborhoods bill this session. This incredible response means that a majority of all House members are on record calling for action!

Reps. Steve Kulik and Sarah Peake are now working with their colleagues to determine what provisions could be included in a package that could come to the floor for a vote. As we await next steps, please check out the full text of the letter below to see if your state representative signed on and if so, please reach out to thank them for doing so. If they did not sign on, you can still encourage them to make zoning reform a priority here!

May 22, 2018


Honorable Robert A. DeLeo

Speaker of the House of Representatives

State House, Room 356

Boston, MA 02133


RE:     Zoning Reform and Housing Initiatives


Dear Mr. Speaker:

We are writing to express our support for a zoning reform and housing initiative package that reflects a balance and compromise of concerns and impacts expressed by interested parties in the fields of housing, planning, environment and municipal government.

Massachusetts families, especially seniors and young people, face a housing crisis that threatens to tear them from their communities and undermine our economic success and quality of life.  Businesses indicate that housing scarcity makes it difficult to attract and retain employees, while many cities and towns struggle to create vibrant, walkable places that can attract new investment.

Governor Baker’s “Housing Choice” bill, as reported out by the Housing Committee, can serve as a starting point to modernize the Commonwealth’s planning, zoning and permitting rules.  It contains simple majority approval for zoning improvements and special permits that help to produce and preserve housing, along with local option inter-municipal agreements to share costs and revenue from development.

In addition, we support including the following provisions:

  1. A training program for residents who serve on local planning and zoning boards. Funding has been included in a supplemental budget and will be distributed through the Department of Housing and Community Development.
  2. Expediting certain kinds of appeals by limiting court review to whether or not the local permit decision was made appropriately.
  3. A mediation process at the local level to resolve permitting disputes.
  4. When a zoning change is considered, requiring the planning board to provide an advisory report on whether the proposed change is consistent with the master plan.
  5. Providing notice to the board of health when a development project application is submitted to a municipality.
  6. Authorizing “site plan review,” a tool that helps communities to improve project design while ensuring prompt approval for developers.
  7. Making it easier for developers to “cluster” homes in a subdivision to conserve land and reduce construction costs.
  8. Enabling more single family homeowners to create a modest “accessory apartment” within the home for relatives, caretakers, or rental.
  9. Extending the time municipalities have to exercise a right of first refusal to purchase agricultural land or recreational land.
  10. Reform of unregulated “Approval Not Required” development, if a community is willing to adopt a Minor Subdivision Ordinance or By-Law.
  11. Encouraging more multifamily housing in sensible locations.
  12. Clarifying that discriminatory actions in zoning and permitting are not allowed under Massachusetts law.
  13. Establishing sensible parameters for property owners to vest their property rights, which will encourage municipalities to update their zoning.

State zoning, planning and subdivision statutes have not been significantly updated since 1975.  Passage of such a bill would be a worthy accomplishment and in line with the House’s tradition of reform.  In that regard, we respectfully request that the House take action on a comprehensive zoning reform and housing initiative package by the end of session.  Thank you in advance for your consideration.




Stephen Kulik                                      Sarah K. Peake                                     Patricia A. Haddad

1st Franklin District                               4th Barnstable District                            5th Bristol District


Paul A. Schmid, III                               Paul McMurtry                                     Andres X. Vargas

8th Bristol District                                  11th Norfolk District                             3rd Essex District


Christine P. Barber                                Byron Rushing                                     Brian Murray

34th Middlesex District                          9th Suffolk District                                10th Worcester District


Timothy R. Whelan                              Carmine L. Gentile                                John W. Scibak

1st Barnstable District                            13th Middlesex District                          2nd Hampshire District


Daniel M. Donahue                              David Paul Linsky                                Jay R. Kaufman

16th Worcester District                          5th Middlesex District                            15th Middlesex District


Cory Atkins                                          Randy Hunt                                          Mike Connolly

14th Middlesex District                          5th Barnstable District                            26th Middlesex District


Paul W. Mark                                       Jonathan Hecht                                     Natalie Higgins

2nd Berkshire District                            29th Middlesex District                         4th Worcester District


Aaron Vega                                          Stephan Hay                                         Kay Khan

5th Hampden District                             3rd Worcester District                            11th Middlesex District


Brian M. Ashe                                      Shaunna L. O’Connell                          James K. Hawkins

2nd Hampden District                            3rd Bristol District                                 2nd Bristol District


Adrian Madaro                                     Thomas M. Stanley                               Paul Tucker

1st Suffolk District                                9th Middlesex District                            7th Essex District


Denise C. Garlick                                 Jack Lewis                                            Jose F. Tosado

13th Norfolk District                             7th Middlesex District                            9th Hampden District


Frank I. Smizik                                     Juana B. Matias                                    Carolyn C. Dykema

15th Norfolk District                             16th Essex District                                 8th Middlesex District


Todd M. Smola                                    Marjorie C. Decker                               David M. Rogers

1st Hampden District                             25th Middlesex District                          24th Middlesex District


Mathew Muratore                                 Paul J. Donato                                      Bud Williams

1st Plymouth District                             35th Middlesex District                          11th Hampden District


Harold P. Naughton, Jr.                         Jay D. Livingstone                                Smitty Pignatelli

12th Worcester District                          8th Suffolk District                                4th Berkshire District


Joan Meschino                                     Susannah M. Whipps                            Carlos Gonzalez

3rd Plymouth District                             2nd Franklin District                              10th Hampden District


Frank A. Moran                                    Solomon Goldstein-Rose                      Antonio F. D. Cabral

17th Essex District                                 3rd Hampshire District                           13th Bristol District


Elizabeth A. Malia                                Sean Garballey                                     John Barrett

11th Suffolk District                              23rd Middlesex District                          1st Berkshire District


William C. Galvin                                Tricia Farley-Bouvier                           Daniel J. Ryan

6th Norfolk District                              3rd Berkshire District                             2nd Suffolk District


Louis L. Kafka                                     Dylan Fernandes                                  Steven S. Howitt

8th Norfolk District                               Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket          4th Bristol District


Angelo J. Puppolo, Jr.                           William L. Crocker, Jr.                         Ann-Margaret Ferrante

12th Hampden District                           2nd Barnstable District                           5th Essex District


John J. Mahoney                                  John C. Velis                                        Russell E. Holmes

13th Worcester District                          4th Hampden District                             6th Suffolk District


Kenneth I. Gordon                               Danielle W. Gregoire                            James J. Dwyer

21st Middlesex District                          4th Middlesex District                            30th Middlesex District


Shawn Dooley                                      Joseph W. McGonagle, Jr.                     Diana DiZoglio

9th Norfolk District                               28th Middlesex District                          14th Essex District


Mary S. Keefe                                       Daniel Cullinane                                   Tackey Chan

15th Worcester District                          12th Suffolk District                              2nd Norfolk District


Alan Silvia                                           Evandro C. Carvalho                            Jennifer E. Benson

7th Bristol District                                  5th Suffolk District                                37th Middlesex District


Rady Mom                                           Gerard Cassidy                                     Linda Dean Campbell

18th Middlesex District                          9th Plymouth District                             15th Essex District


Jeffrey N. Roy
10th Norfolk District

House leaders outline potential path for housing, land-use bill

by The Daily News of Newburyport

BOSTON — House Democrats held private meetings over the fall and winter with housing and land use stakeholders that led officials on Wednesday to outline areas of agreement and plans to build support within the House for a major bill tackling housing production and smart growth techniques.

Reps. Stephen Kulik and Sarah Peake, both members of Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership team, led the meetings with officials from the real estate, planning, municipal government, environmental and housing sectors.

Read Full Article Here >

For smart growth, urban development needs better transportation

by The Reminder (Pioneer Valley)

SPRINGFIELD – The conversation around this cocktail party at Theodore’s centered on one big subject: how to improve transportation options in the Pioneer Valley.

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance hosted, with the help of progressive activist Corinne Wingard of Agawam,  “TODrinks” on May 3. The “TOD” stands from “transit-oriented development” described as “a type of community development that includes a mixture of housing, office, retail and/or other amenities integrated into a walkable neighborhood and located within a half-mile of quality public transportation.”

View Full Article Here >

Boston Globe’s 1-2 Zoning Punch

Appropriately for MLK weekend, two Boston Globe columnists independently picked up the zoning reform banner to point out the common roots of our housing crisis and Massachusetts’ deep segregation.

In today’s paper, Renée Loth says, “A comprehensive bill making its way through the State House would do more to ease the affordable housing crisis — and repair the state’s longstanding economic and racial disparities — than you might imagine.”

That bill is our bill–House 2420/Senate 81. And you can sign our online petition here.

The zoning reform bill sets new statewide standards allowing for multifamily housing, accessory dwelling units, cluster zoning to preserve open space, and other “smart growth” initiatives. It eases the current statewide requirement of a super-majority vote to change local zoning or to grant special permits. It helps smaller communities plan better through grants and training. And, importantly, it explicitly outlaws “exclusionary land use practices” that discriminate against racial or economic minorities, families, and other protected classes. “It’s not only about affordability,” says André Leroux, director of the Smart Growth Alliance. “It’s also about inclusion, and being able to live with diversity.” He describes the state’s segregated community patterns as “a monoculture.” 

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Dante Ramos discusses an ambitious effort in California to combat zoning problems like ours head on and unlock development near transit stations:

Zoning has an ugly history. In a startling book entitled “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,” author Richard Rothstein details the thousands of steps that federal, state, and local officials took over decades to keep African-Americans from moving into white areas. When courts invalidated explicit racial zoning, cities and towns from coast to coast imposed codes that restricted the construction of multifamily housing — a more legally defensible way to keep supposed undesirables out.

This year, we can take real steps in Massachusetts to correct these injustices, but we need you to let us know that you support the Great Neighborhoods campaign. If you do, we’ll keep you posted about when and how to weigh in with state leaders.

Read the full articles:

Zoning reform offers a path to economic equality and social integration” by Renée Loth, Boston Globe, 1/16/2018.

Go on, California–blow up your lousy zoning laws” by Dante Ramos, Boston Globe, 1/14/2018.

I encourage you to engage in the conversation in the comment sections, and to forward this important message to friends and families who might be interested. We need our allies to stand up and make themselves known today.

Find talking points, infographics for social media, and much more here at our Take Action Center. Thank you!

André Leroux is executive director of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance.

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