- Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development
- Office of Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito
Media Contact for Baker-Polito Administration Highlights Housing Choice Bill in Lowell
Colleen Arons , Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development
LOWELL — Today, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy and Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Janelle Chan joined Lowell Mayor William Samaras, City Manager Eileen Donoghue, UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney, members of the Lowell legislative delegation, and other local 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.
“Across the Commonwealth, communities like Lowell are growing their economy and thriving, but they also face a housing shortage that threatens to force residents and businesses to move elsewhere,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “An Act to Promote Housing Choices will empower communities of all kinds to produce the housing they need and we remain committed to working with our colleagues in the Legislature to make sure this critical first step is taken as soon as possible.”
“Municipal and business leaders from communities as different as Lowell and Williamstown have advocated for An Act to Promote Housing Choices because they recognize that century-old zoning laws pose a major obstacle to building adequate, affordable housing for residents,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “Governor Baker and I will continue to work closely with local leaders to leverage every tool at our disposal to promote the production of housing across the Commonwealth, so more communities like Lowell can continue to grow and succeed.”
Today’s event at the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub celebrated Lowell’s efforts to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in tandem with housing production, in order to ensure that the City continues to grow and remains affordable to residents of all income levels. Lowell has planned extensively for the future, zoning downtown, transit-oriented areas and leveraging state programs like the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) that have already spurred new development. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has invested $18 million in projects in Lowell to support the production of 204 affordable units, in addition to the $9 million in HDIP credits that supported five projects with 401 affordable and market-rate units. These efforts earned Lowell designation as a Housing Choice Community, in recognition of the city’s success in adopting best practices and increasing the housing stock by more than 3% over the last five years.
The City has also collaborated closely with UMass Lowell and the Baker-Polito Administration to support local entrepreneurs and start-ups with resources, including the Innovation Hub where today’s event took place, a state-of-the-art facility that offers start-ups short-term work and laboratory space with access to one of the region’s premier research universities. The iHub was made possible by a $4.7 million MassWorks grant for infrastructure upgrades necessary for the redevelopment of the Hamilton Canal District. The Administration also awarded more than $13.4 million to local advanced manufacturing initiatives through the M2I2 program, including a $10 million award to UMass Lowell’s Fabric Discovery Center.
Local community and business leaders including Mouli Ramani, President and CEO of Horsepower Technologies, Stephanie Cronin, Executive Director of Middlesex 3 Coalition, and Jessica Levesque of Instrumentation Laboratory, joined Mayor Samaras and City Manager Donoghue in endorsing the legislation.
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. While this legislation will lower the voting threshold to change zoning for all communities in the Commonwealth, it does not require cities and towns to make any of these changes. With the proposed simple majority threshold, municipalities that pursue rezoning efforts including those enabling transit-oriented or downtown-oriented new housing, would gain approval if they achieve more than 50 percent of the vote, as opposed to the current super majority of more than 66 percent. 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 percent affordable units in locations near transit or, in centers of commercial activity within a municipality.
“The housing crisis facing Massachusetts threatens the remarkable success of Gateway Cities like Lowell, where pioneering companies have begun a new chapter in a proud history of manufacturing to provide breakthroughs to the world and jobs for residents,” said Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy. “This administration remains committed to supporting all communities with the resources they need to succeed, from historic investments in affordable housing to generous support for life sciences and institutions like UMass Lowell. But until we pass Housing Choice, outdated zoning laws will continue to prevent municipalities from building the amount of housing residents and businesses need.”
Today’s show of support built on recent bipartisan endorsements from officials and organizations including former Secretaries of Economic Development from the Romney, Patrick, and Baker administrations. The bill was formally discussed at the May 14th hearing of the Joint Committee on Housing. 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.
“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 Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Janelle Chan. “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 that contribute to our strong, inclusive Commonwealth.”
“The Baker-Polito Administration’s Housing Choice Initiative has been a catalyst for increased housing production, a key priority for both the City of Lowell and the Commonwealth as a whole,” said Lowell Mayor William Samaras. “Producing additional housing options will ensure that our city remains a strong and vibrant place into the future by attracting new residents and helping our families continue to grow in Lowell. The passage of H.3507, An Act to Promote Housing Choices, would further aid the City of Lowell in this task.”
“Providing a diverse range of housing options that fit the demands of Lowell’s evolving population is a fundamental component of economic development and is critical in protecting the long term stability of the city. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Housing Choice Initiative provides valuable technical assistance and funding opportunities aimed at supporting communities like Lowell in meeting these demands,” said Lowell City Manager Eileen Donoghue. “The accompanying Housing Choice legislation would lend additional tools to municipalities as we seek to participate in responding to the Commonwealth’s housing shortage.”
“UMass Lowell supports the growth of our community by educating the workforce, supporting new ventures and delivering more than $900 million in positive economic impact annually. Efforts that create more opportunities to live and work in Massachusetts are an important part of ensuring continued economic growth here and across the Commonwealth. I want to thank the Baker-Polito administration for prioritizing this issue,” said UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney.
“Innovative, growing, technology-focused companies across the Commonwealth enthusiastically support and welcome the Governor’s Housing Choice legislation,” said Mouli Ramani, President and CEO of Horsepower Technologies Inc. “As we compete to recruit highly skilled workers, businesses need to offer them vibrant, safe and affordable communities where they can live, work and play. This is why we have chosen the Hamilton Canal Innovation District for Horsepower.”
“Instrumentation Laboratory has been designing and manufacturing medical instrumentation in Massachusetts for 60 years. It is imperative to us that we have access to the best talent – both from the local colleges and universities like UMASS Lowell, and the well-trained technicians that are coming from schools like Greater Lowell Technical High School,” said Jessica Levesque, Director of Human Resources for Instrumentation Laboratory. “Almost 20% of the employees in our Bedford, MA headquarters live in Lowell, so having affordable housing options in the area -- especially Lowell -- is of great importance to us as a local employer. The Housing Choice legislation will make it easier for local cities and towns to add affordable housing options which will benefit local businesses and employers.”
“Access to a high-quality, skilled workforce has been a growing concern for the regional business community for many years,” said Stephanie Cronin, Executive Director of Middlesex 3 Coalition. “We need resources to improve housing options for employees, and the Housing Choice Initiative would provide more diverse housing to keep our highly skilled workforce in the region and the economy strong.”
“Creating housing that fits in with the community and provides safe and affordable shelter for all residents is the first step toward combating many of the problems facing the Commonwealth’s cities and towns,” said Senator Ed Kennedy. “Providing more local regulatory tools to municipalities makes sense and untangles some of the bureaucracy that stands in the way of development today. I am looking forward to exploring the Governor’s proposed bill more thoroughly.”
“Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito have made affordable housing a top priority in their administration, and the legislative delegation and local officials have worked closely with their housing team in collaborating on innovative programs and incentives,” said Representative David Nangle. “I am particularly proud that Lowell has received a Housing Choice designation, and has been recognized by the state for its balanced mixed use zoning and multifamily developments.”
“Housing is one of the key factors to reducing poverty and increasing economic mobility,” said Representative Rady Mom. “My colleagues and I will continue to advocate and fight for investments in Massachusetts housing programs to support our extreme low income population.”
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 11,000 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.