Using Everett as his ninth stop on a tour promoting the Housing Choice Bill currently pending in the State Legislature, Gov. Charlie Baker joined Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, the Everett Legislative delegation, and local leaders to highlight the legislation he filed in February.
That legislation 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.
Gov. Baker led off the event by stating that Everett has had the third highest number of housing unit building-permits granted in the state.
“Communities as diverse as Everett in Greater Boston and Williamstown in the Berkshires know that Massachusetts has a housing crisis, and the lack of affordable and available housing is a serious problem for the Commonwealth,” said Gov. Baker. “We have filed An Act to Promote Housing Choices to jumpstart the construction of housing in every region of the Commonwealth by empowering communities to build the housing they need where they need it. We will continue to work with our legislative colleagues to swiftly take this crucial first step.”
He said that the average number of units created statewide in the 1970s and 1980s was around 30,000 per year. That slowed down in the 1990s to about 10,000 per year. At the same time, the population has grown by more than 600,000 people.
“When supply fails so much to keep up with the demand, it’s no wonder we have this crisis,” he said.
“People want to live in this great community and I am proud that here in Everett we have issued the third highest number of new multi-family housing permits in the Commonwealth, many of which are transit oriented developments. However, we must do more,” said Mayor Carlo DeMaria. “Gov. Baker’s legislation will expedite the construction of ‘in-law’ apartments and accessory dwelling units, increase density through special permits and will cut parking and dimensional requirements. As a result, I believe we can substantially reduce the number of unsafe, overcrowded illegal units, by creating safe and affordable high quality housing for current and future residents.”
The event was held at The Pioneer and celebrated Everett’s commitment to boosting the production of housing viable for a wide range of incomes, with a particular focus on transit-oriented development to leverage the City’s extensive bus network and close proximity to employers in both Everett and Boston. In 2016, Everett became the first community in the Commonwealth outside of Boston to add a dedicated bus lane, leading to a significant reduction in commute times. These efforts earned Everett designation as a Housing Choice community, in recognition for the city’s success in adopting best practices and increasing the housing stock by more than 3 percent over the last five years.
Local community and business leaders including Antonio Amaya Iraheta of La Comunidad, a nonprofit organization supporting Everett’s Latin American community, Marjorie White, President of Everett Co-operative Bank, and Rafael Mares of The Neighborhood Developers, a Chelsea-based community development corporation leading the affordable housing development at St Therese in Everett, joined Mayor DeMaria in endorsing the legislation.
“The Housing Choice Initiative is critical for our constituency in the city of Everett,” said Amaya. “Across the city there are a lot of illegal units. It is very dangerous living 2 or 3 families in one or two bedroom apartments. The Governor’s bill will bring a huge benefit and better condition of living, building more housing units in the City of Everett and across the state.”
Said White, “While recent development in Everett has been impressive and provided increased housing for the community, too many opportunities have been missed due to outdated zoning provisions. Modification of local zoning ordinances has been a cumbersome and lengthy process. This legislation will enable local officials to assess their communities’ housing needs and enact responsible, thoughtful zoning changes to meet them.”
Sen. Sal DiDomenico and State Rep. Joe McGonagle – who is vice chair of the House’s Housing Committee – both said the bill has support and needs to be passed.
“Our seniors are being priced out of the market,” said DiDomenico. “We are in a housing crisis and it didn’t start yesterday. It started a long time ago. We have an option. We can do more of the same or try to do something. This legislation is before us and we need to try to get something done.”
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 – typically something that is voted at the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), Planning Board or the City Council. 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.
Seth Daniel contributed material to this report.