This page, Housing Choice and MBTA Communities Legislation, is offered by

Housing Choice and MBTA Communities Legislation

Chapter 358 of the Acts of 2020 included a series of revisions to MGL Chapter 40A, commonly known as the Zoning Act, which applies to 350 cities and towns in Massachusetts. The City of Boston operates under its own enabling act. This page includes guidance and other key information on these changes.

Table of Contents

Voting Threshold Guidance

Chapter 358 of the Acts of 2020 (sometimes referred to as the economic development legislation of 2020) made several amendments to Chapter 40A of the General Laws, commonly known as the Zoning Act.  Among these amendments are (1) changes to section 5 of the Zoning Act, which reduce the number of votes required to enact certain kinds of zoning ordinances and bylaws from a ⅔ supermajority to a simple majority; and (2) changes to section 9 of the Zoning Act, making similar changes to the voting thresholds for the issuance of certain kinds of special permits.

Section 100 of said chapter 358 directs “[t]he executive office of housing and economic development [to] issue guidance to assist local officials in determining the voting thresholds for various zoning amendments.  Such guidance shall be assembled in consultation with the department of housing and community development, the Massachusetts attorney general's municipal law unit, and Massachusetts Housing Partnership.”  This guidance is intended to comply with that directive.

Request an Advisory Opinion on Ch.40A Eligible Locations

If there is uncertainty about whether a zoning proposal affects an eligible location, a municipality may request an advisory opinion from EOHED. Such a request must be made by the mayor, city council, board of aldermen, or planning board (when the zoning amendment is proposed in a city); or by the select board or planning board (when the zoning amendment is proposed in a town). A request may not be made by an individual member of the council or board. EOHED will endeavor to provide a written advisory opinion within 30 days of receipt of a complete request.

Resources and Documents

Preliminary Guidance for MBTA Communities

Please see the Preliminary Guidance for MBTA Communities (available for download below) in response to changes in the Zoning Enabling statute (chapter 40A) enacted as part of the Economic Development Bond Bill and briefly described here.

The new section 3A of the Zoning Act states that an MBTA community shall have at least one zoning district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right and meets other criteria set forth in the statute:

  • Minimum gross density of 15 units per acre
  • Not more than ½ miles from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station, if applicable.
  • No age restrictions
  • Suitable for families with children.

The statute requires DHCD to issue guidelines that define compliance with this new section of the Zoning Act.

Compliance criteria will be developed in consultation with affected MBTA communities and other stakeholders.

For purposes of EOHED and DHCD grant programs, MBTA communities will be deemed to be in compliance with this new section until more detailed compliance criteria have been established.

All communities are eligible to apply for MassWorks or the Housing Choice Capital Grants Program in the upcoming 2021 grant cycle.

Date published: February 26, 2021
Last updated: May 20, 2021