BOSTON — Municipalities that don’t comply with the state law requiring that denser, multi-family housing be allowed near transit stations could be slapped with lawsuits in addition to losing access to key sources of state funding, Attorney General Andrea Campbell warned earlier this week.
An economic development law that then Gov. Charlie Baker signed in January 2021 requires that every MBTA community have at least one zoning district near a transit station in which multi-family housing is allowed as of right. There are 175 cities and towns that are subject to the law’s requirements, but a handful of towns missed a deadline to submit action plans and have resisted the state’s push to encourage more transit-oriented housing.
“All MBTA Communities must comply with the Law. Communities that do not currently have a compliant multi-family zoning district must take steps outlined in the DHCD guidelines to demonstrate interim compliance. Communities that fail to comply with the Law may be subject to civil enforcement action,” Campbell’s office wrote in an advisory that she previewed last month. The AG added, “The Law requires that MBTA Communities ‘shall have’ a compliant zoning district and does not provide any mechanism by which a town or city may opt out of this requirement.”
Non-compliant towns are ineligible for awards from major sources of state funding for municipal projects — the Housing Choice Initiative, the Local Capital Projects Fund, or the MassWorks Infrastructure Program.
Campbell said Wednesday that municipalities cannot simply accept that fate and move on without complying with the zoning law. She said towns that don’t comply “risk liability” under both the Massachusetts Antidiscrimination Law and federal Fair Housing Act.
“Compliance with the MBTA Communities Zoning Law is not only mandatory, it is an essential tool for the Commonwealth to address its housing crisis along with our climate and transportation goals,” Campbell said. “While the housing crisis disproportionately affects communities of color and poor, working families, it threatens all of us along with our economy and thus requires all of us do our part including ensuring adequate development of affordable, transit-oriented housing for our residents and families.”
Campbell’s office said that rental housing was the top issue raised in complaints to its Consumer Advocacy and Response Division last year, surpassing complaints in all other categories for the first time as residents reported unsafe and unsanitary conditions, rent hikes, and evictions.