Multi-Family Zoning Requirement for MBTA Communities

This page includes Draft Guidelines on new Section 3A of MGL c. 40A and how MBTA Communities can comply in 2022.

Enacted as part of the economic development bill in January 2021, new Section 3A of M.G.L. c. 40A (the Zoning Act) requires 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.

Table of Contents

What is an "MBTA Community"?

“MBTA community” is defined by reference to M.G.L. c. 161A, sec. 1:

  • one of the “14 cities and towns”  that initially hosted MBTA service; ​

  • one of the “51 cities and towns” that also host MBTA service but joined later; ​

  • other “served communities” that abut a city or town that hosts MBTA service; or​

  • a municipality that has been added to the MBTA under G.L. c. 161A, sec. 6 or in accordance with any special law relative to the area constituting the authority.

In total, 175 MBTA communities are subject to the new requirements of Section 3A of the Zoning Act. While served by the MBTA, Boston is exempted from the Zoning Act, including section 3A.

Read the letter sent to each MBTA Community from Secretary Mike Kennealy and Undersecretary Jennifer Maddox.

Map showing cities and towns considered to be "MBTA Communities"

MBTA Communities by Category of Service

MBTA Communities By Category of Service

All communities served by the MBTA need to zone to allow for multifamily housing by-right, with a greater obligation for communities with higher levels of transit service.

* MBTA communities with a unit capacity lower than 750 units are noted as having a unit capacity of 750.  This is the fewest number of multi-family units needed to meet the gross density requirement of 15 units per acre (i.e. 50 acres x 15 units per acre).

MBTA Communities - Cohort Designations and Capacity Calculations (Excel)

What is the new requirement?

The requirement is codified a Section 3A of M.G.L. ch. 40A and it provides:

Section 3A.  (a)(1) An MBTA community shall have a zoning ordinance or by-law that provides for at least 1 district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right; provided, however, that such multi-family housing shall be without age restrictions and shall be suitable for families with children. For the purposes of this section, a district of reasonable size shall: (i) have a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre, subject to any further limitations imposed by section 40 of chapter 131 and title 5 of the state environmental code established pursuant to section 13 of chapter 21A; and (ii) be located not more than 0.5 miles from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station, if applicable.

(b)  An MBTA community that fails to comply with this section shall not be eligible for funds from: (i) the Housing Choice Initiative as described by the governor in a message to the general court dated December 11, 2017; (ii) the Local Capital Projects Fund established in section 2EEEE of chapter 29; or (iii) the MassWorks infrastructure program established in section 63 of chapter 23A.

(c)  The department, in consultation with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, shall promulgate guidelines to determine if an MBTA community is in compliance with this section.

Review the Draft Guidelines

Below you will find a link to the draft guidelines for determining compliance with new Section 3A of M.G.L. c. 40A.

Submitting public comment and engagement process

The stakeholder and public engagement process will run December 15, 2021 through March 31, 2022. The Baker-Polito Administration intends to spend the next few months soliciting input and feedback from key stakeholders, particularly towns and cities. Public comment period will end on March 31, 2022. Final guidelines will be issued in summer 2022.

How MBTA Communities can comply in 2022

To remain in compliance while DHCD is collecting public comment on the Draft Guidelines, an MBTA community must:

  • Submit the MBTA Community Information Form by 5:00 p.m. on May 2, 2022.
  • Hold a briefing of your City Council, Town Council or Select Board on the Draft Compliance Guidance no later than May 2, 2022 and attest to that on the MBTA Community Information Form.

An MBTA community that does not comply with Section 3A is not eligible for funding from: the Housing Choice Initiative, the Local Capital Projects Fund, or the MassWorks Infrastructure Program.

Additional Resources

Technical Assistance

Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP) will provide:

  • Online tools and a clearinghouse of info, available to municipalities at their own pace, such as webinars and training modules, best practices, model ordinances and bylaws, and sample public outreach materials.
  • Grant monies for third-party assistance to municipalities selected based on their readiness to participate and need for support, including help with drafting/amending bylaws and ordinances, conducting build-out analysis, and drawing/mapping district boundaries. 

Frequently Asked Questions


Engagement Sessions & Outreach

Please find below a list of the engagement sessions that EOHED, DHCD, and MHP have conducted since the release of the draft guidelines on December 15, 2021:

MBTA Communities RPA Webinar Series



HED/DHCD/MHP General Webinar




MAPC - MAGIC & MetroWest


MMA Conference: Workshop on MBTA Communities




Old Colony Planning Commission (w/ Cape Cod Commission)


Northern Middlesex Council of Governments


Montachusett Regional Planning Commission


Southeastern Regional Planning Economic Development District (SRPEDD)


Merrimack Valley Planning Commission


MAPC - North Shore Coalition


Central MA Regional Planning Commission


MAPC – Inner Core Communities


Citizen Planner Training Collaborative (CPTC)



If you wish to request a briefing, preferably for a regional audience, you may do so by completing this form. Please be advised that the requirement to hold a briefing for your City Council, Town Council or Select Board on the draft guidelines as required as part of “How to Comply in 2022” is the responsibility of the MBTA Community. We encourage you to use the materials on this website to assist with that requirement.

Date published: December 15, 2021
Last updated: March 18, 2022