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EASTHAMPTON — Today, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito joined Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, Representative Daniel R. Carey, and local housing leaders to highlight An Act to Promote Housing Choices, legislation filed by Governor Baker in February that calls for targeted zoning reform to advance new housing production in Massachusetts and support the administration’s goal to produce 135,000 new housing units by 2025.

Local organizations including Valley Community Development, Beacon Communities, and Way Finders joined Mayor LaChapelle in endorsing the legislation.

“Our administration strongly believes our Housing Choice legislation is a missing, critical piece in our efforts to substantially increase housing production across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “We will continue working with our partners in the legislature and stakeholders to build consensus around this proposal, so we can give our communities the tools they need to make long-term plans and pursue the housing our residents need.”

“I am thrilled to welcome today’s endorsements here in Easthampton, and thank Mayor LaChapelle and Representative Carey for their leadership on this important issue,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “We will continue to advocate for our communities and the important reforms offered in An Act to Promote Housing Choices. Housing is fundamental to the well-being and prosperity of our families, seniors and individuals, and critical to the success of our Commonwealth long-term.”

The legislative proposal will enable cities and towns to adopt certain zoning best practices related to housing production by a simple majority vote, rather than the current two-thirds supermajority. This legislation will not mandate cities and towns to make any of these zoning changes; but will allow municipalities that want to rezone for denser, transit or downtown oriented, and new housing development to do so more easily. Massachusetts is currently one of only a few states to require a supermajority to change local zoning.

Zoning changes that promote best practices for housing growth that would qualify for the simple majority threshold include:

  • Building mixed-use, multi-family, and starter homes, and adopting 40R “Smart Growth” zoning in town centers and near transit
  • Allowing the development of accessory dwelling units, or “in-law” apartments
  • Approving Smart Growth or Starter Homes districts that put housing near existing activity centers
  • Granting increased density through a special permit process
  • Allowing for the transfer of development rights and enacting natural resource protection zoning
  • Reducing parking requirements and dimensional requirements, such as minimum lot sizes

This legislation also includes a provision, added by the Joint Committee on Housing last session, that would reduce the voting threshold for a special permit issued by a local permit granting authority to a simple majority vote, for certain multi-family or mixed-use projects with at least 10% affordable units in locations near transit or, in centers of commercial activity within a municipality.

“We have a strong economy here in Massachusetts, bolstered by innovative companies and a highly-skilled workforce, but the limited housing stock threatens to constrain our potential to attract and retain workers,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy.“Our Housing Choice legislation aims to empower local leaders to craft smart, forward thinking zoning to encourage new housing production and fuel our economy. We are motivated by today’s endorsements and look forward to working together to get this legislation done.”

The legislation is part of the administration’s Housing Choice Initiative, which provides incentives, technical assistance, and capital grant funding to encourage new housing production that meets the long-term needs of the Commonwealth’s growing, and aging, population.

Today’s event highlighted the efforts of the City of Easthampton to promote housing development. Last year, Easthampton received a Housing Choice Designation and was awarded a $225,000 Housing Choice Capital Grant to expand a regional bike-share program in the city. 

“Our families, seniors, workforce, individuals with disabilities, and vulnerable populations have diverse housing needs, and today’s market is not meeting them. Housing that our residents can afford is a crucial resource and An Act to Promote Housing Choices will create the tools we need to promote new housing development for those across incomes,” said Acting Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Jennifer Maddox. “We are proud of the coalition we’ve built in support of this legislation and the investments we’ve made in affordable housing, community development, and public housing to benefit the many communities which contribute to our strong, inclusive Commonwealth.”

“Easthampton unlocked long standing impediments to smart growth. We are seeing the results with local site plan approval for a 300,000 square foot mixed – use development project and the installation of Valley Bike Share stations. Coupled with Community Compact grants to modernize our budget, forecasting and capital improvement plan, our bond rating was just increased to AA+ by Standard & Poor – our highest bond rating in twenty years. Our next financial steps as a city will be even stronger with the Governor and Lt Governor’s recently filed Housing Choice Initiative bill,” said Mayor LaChapelle.

“Having grown up in Easthampton, I have seen firsthand the city grow in so many positive ways. It is wonderful to see the old mill buildings serving the community in the way they do- hair salons, restaurants, gyms, art studios, offices, and so much more- including housing.  People live in these mills which not too long ago were the empty mills I remember as a kid,” said Representative Daniel R. Carey. “I am proud to have played a small role as an Easthampton City Councilor in helping Easthampton continue to move forward in positive ways. I look forward to working with city officials and my colleagues on the state level in finding the best ways to ensure that Easthampton, as well as towns across the state, continue to grow in positive ways.”

“On behalf of Valley Community Development and our trade association MACDC, we support Governor Baker’s Housing Choice Initiative which provides a variety of zoning tools to municipalities to encourage housing development and which will also spur much needed affordable housing development,” said Joanne Campbell, Executive Director, Valley Community Development. “I want to congratulate the City of Easthampton, the City of Northampton and the Town of Amherst for being designated Housing Choice communities.”

“Affordable housing is critically needed across the Commonwealth.  We embrace the Baker-Polito Administration’s efforts to promote the production of multifamily housing through its Housing Choice Initiative and the proposed Housing Choice bill,” said Dara Kovel, the CEO of Beacon Communities. “We look forward to working with the Administration, the Legislature, and cities and towns across the Commonwealth to build more affordable and mixed-income multifamily housing in order to address the affordable housing crisis in Massachusetts. We need to encourage towns to step up to provide quality housing like Easthampton did with Beacon at the Treehouse Community.”

“Massachusetts’ growing economy has created a need for more housing across a spectrum of types. The Administration’s Housing Choice Initiative can contribute to meeting this need as it encourages municipalities to adopt best practices in zoning and planning intended to lower the barriers to housing production. It does this through two meaningful elements: first, it incentivizes rather than mandates and second, it appropriately respects a municipality’s role in local decision-making around housing,” said Lynne Wallace, Chief Operating Officer, Way Finders. “We applaud the Administration for putting forth this bill and those communities that will take advantage of it and bring much-needed homes to their residents.”

The Baker-Polito Administration has shown a deep commitment to increasing the production of housing across income levels. Since 2015, the administration has invested more than $1 billion in affordable housing, resulting in the production and preservation of more than 17,000 housing units, including 15,000 affordable units. In 2018, Governor Baker signed the largest housing bond bill in Massachusetts history, committing more than $1.8 billion to the future of affordable housing production and preservation. The Baker-Polito Administration has also advanced the development of more than 7,000 mixed-income housing units through the successful MassWorks Infrastructure Program, reformed the Housing Development Incentive Program, and worked with communities to implement smart-growth development and planning efforts.

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