Executive Director of Harborlight Community Partners, Beverly-based affordable housing organization
As a nonprofit affordable housing developer on the North Shore, I’m thrilled the state is now requiring communities to designate areas near transit for multifamily housing.
Under a newly enacted state law, communities hosting MBTA commuter rail or rapid transit stations are required in their zoning to allow by right multifamily housing with a minimum of 15 homes per acre, in at least one district near the station. If the community has multiple stations, it would only need to have such a zoning district near one of the stations to comply with the law.
Zoning is the greatest barrier my organization faces as we work to build homes for people who can’t afford our area’s rents and home prices. Often, we face years of long approval processes before shovels even hit the ground. This lengthy process not only hurts our most vulnerable neighbors, it limits our potential for economic growth, diversity, and a healthier environment.
Local businesses are our economy’s backbone. Current local land use policies restrict development, resulting in escalating home prices that force employees and customers alike to live farther from those businesses. Multifamily housing near transit and town centers is vital to meeting our workforce’s housing needs and ensuring people don’t spend hours in traffic commuting to work or running errands.
The new zoning requirement also puts meaningful action behind our Black Lives Matter signs. It removes a barrier that limits access to education, a clean environment, and employment, and can help enable people to live in the communities they choose.
Walkable neighborhoods with access to transit reduces our reliance on cars and preserves our beautiful open spaces. Let’s make it possible for people to live in places where they can walk, bike, or access transit to get to work, shop at local businesses, and enjoy parks.
Multifamily housing near transit is also a simple matter of fairness. Substantial tax-funded investment in transit has enhanced the quality of life for residents who live near stations, and raised property values in those neighborhoods. But these are public-funded infrastructure improvements, so all taxpayers should share in their benefits.
As we look to a brighter post-COVID future, this new law will move us forward as a Commonwealth, creating new opportunities to strengthen our economy, advance racial equity, develop more sustainably, and maximize our state investments.
Shawn C. Dooley
State Representative, Norfolk Republican
Let’s be honest, this move is nothing more than a ploy by big developers to maximize profits and run roughshod over local zoning with little respect for the community. The argument that this is an essential step to help those in search of an affordable home is disingenuous at best. For the last several decades, developers have forced this narrative time and again under the guise of the affordable housing law, Chapter 40B, with scarce regard for anything but their bottom line. Since this path is often messy and expensive, those who are trying to “pave paradise” came up with this scheme to make a few extra dollars at the expense of silencing the voice of the citizenry.
Why our state government wants to take away the rights of municipalities to govern themselves baffles me. This is not akin to historical zoning legislation where there was a need to prevent the tony suburbs from redlining. This move forces communities to change their zoning simply based on the presence of a T station. Building an entire statewide mandate around a transit system that pre-pandemic was, at best, inefficient and now (with the rise of remote working) increasingly unused, proves this change is not needed. Doesn’t it make more sense to reimagine and redesign our state’s transit system as opposed to forcing a zoning change tied to this antiquated model?
Let’s explore what will happen if this law goes into effect. Existing housing and retail surrounding T stations will begin to be knocked down and parking lots taken over as massive developments rise up, dominating our neighborhoods. Traffic will increase around these already congested areas, schools and other local services will see an unchecked increase in expenses, and a strain on a weakened infrastructure will only further exacerbate the situation. All without any input from the community as these developments will be allowed by right.
Every community is different and every neighborhood has unique needs and character. Let us respect the fact that the people know what is needed and allow them to control their town’s destiny. One size certainly does not fit all.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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