- Office of Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito
- Governor's Press Office
- Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development
Media Contact for Baker-Polito Administration Highlights Housing Choice Bill in Salem
Brendan Moss, Press Secretary, Governor's Office
SALEM — Today, Governor Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, and Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy joined Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, Beverly Mayor Michael Cahill, Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) CEO Rachel Heller, 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.
Today’s event highlighted the impact of current zoning reform requirements on Beverly and Salem, as both cities work to expand their housing stocks. Just last month, efforts to re-zone vacant properties for housing in downtown Salem were defeated despite garnering majority support from the city council, denying units necessary to support local families and empower regional growth. If enacted, the Housing Choice legislation will ensure that communities can deliver on projects important to their residents, preventing future debacles like that seen in Salem by reducing the threshold for zoning reform to a simple majority.
“Over the last four years, our Administration has prioritized housing, investing in the production and preservation of more than 15,000 affordable units, and signing the largest housing bill in Massachusetts history, but decades of strict zoning rules have hampered the development communities need,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “By making it easier for cities and towns to adopt the best practices needed to advance new housing production and facilitate long-term planning, our Housing Choice legislation will help the Commonwealth reach our goal of 135,000 new units by 2025.”
Local organizations including Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association joined both mayors in endorsing the legislation.
“As former municipal leaders, Governor Baker and I believe strongly in empowering local decision-making. That’s why we looked to stories like Salem’s struggle to enact majority-backed zoning reform while crafting our Housing Choice legislation,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “We believe strongly in the bill’s promise to promote housing production while maintaining local authority, and are thankful to Mayors Cahill and Driscoll for their perspective and support.”
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.
“Across the Commonwealth, cities and towns like Salem are booming. And yet their continued growth is threatened by a shortage of housing affordable to the workforce within their communities of employment,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. “Our Housing Choice legislation is a critical first step toward providing adequate workforce housing, and supporting further development.”
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 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.”
“There is perhaps no clearer case study in why Housing Choice is so important than what we’ve seen here in Salem. A lack of housing supply, coupled with the desirability of our community as place to live, has meant prices and rents are rising far faster than incomes,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll. “As more and more Salem residents, including working families, young adults, and seniors who have been lifelong residents are being squeezed out of Salem by this crunch, we need more tools to help construct much needed new housing – both market-rate and affordable. We cannot make meaningful progress in mitigating housing costs and ensuring our communities remain livable and welcoming to all, unless we are prepared to take real action on these issues.”
"An Act to Promote Housing Choices will give municipalities additional regulatory tools to create much needed new housing for a range of household types and incomes, and to direct housing to areas that can best accommodate additional housing while preserving critical natural resources and open space,” said Mayor Michael Cahill. “I look forward to utilizing the tools in this legislation to implement the goals and objectives of our recently completed comprehensive housing plan ensuring access to housing while preserving the character of our community."
"We look forward to working with the Baker-Polito Administration and the Legislature to pass Housing Choice legislation. This bill provides an important step for communities actively working to put affordable, fair housing, and smart growth policies into place through empowering the simple majority of people in a community to say ‘yes’ to housing,” said CHAPA CEO Rachel Heller. “Additional strategies will be needed to expand affordable housing, prevent displacement and increase opportunities for people to live in the communities they choose. Making it easier to change land use policies that drive up housing costs is a great place to start."
"I grew up in Salem and have enjoyed watching my city become a hospitality hot spot. This growth of restaurants, hotels, retail -- and new residents seeking an alternative to Boston -- has brought challenges, including the need for additional affordable housing,” said General Manager of the Hawthorne Hotel Claire Kallelis. “Over 60 percent of the Hawthorne’s employees call Salem home and many are finding it increasingly difficult to afford to live here. They are being pushed out by higher rents and increased competition for an already limited inventory of affordable housing. It is discouraging to see so many of these families struggling to remain in Salem.”
“Quality, affordable housing is increasingly becoming more challenging to find on the North Shore of Boston,” said Chianti Italian Restaurant and Jazz Lounge owner Rich Marino. “It is in the best interest of the Commonwealth to revisit any aspects of our current zoning laws that may be antiquated and prohibit smart growth.”
"Housing insecurity is the number one issue about which I most hear both in my district and on Beacon Hill," said Sen. Joan Lovely of Salem. "I thank the Baker-Polito administration and Mayors Cahill and Driscoll for their advocacy on this important subject and look forward to working together with my legislative colleagues and leaders across my district to craft a bill that will help address the housing crisis in Massachusetts."
“I applaud the Baker-Polito administration for advancing the Housing Choice legislation to address one of the biggest issues in Massachusetts,” said Rep. Paul Tucker of Salem. “I have seen the desperate need for new housing units in Salem and across the Commonwealth, and see this Housing Choice Initiative as a pivotal part of a comprehensive approach to quality housing and overall economic development.”
“Perhaps the number one issue I hear about from constituents is the cost and availability of housing, especially on the North Shore” said Rep. Jerry Parisella of Beverly. “I appreciate the efforts of the administration and our local leadership to tackle this pressing problem and provide more housing options for those trying to accomplish the American dream of home ownership.”
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.