Map: Who is — and isn't — complying with the MBTA Communities Act?

An MBTA commuter rail train leaves Lynn station. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
An MBTA commuter rail train leaves Lynn station. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Communities across eastern Massachusetts are under pressure to rezone parts of town to allow more multi-family housing near public transportation, thanks to the MBTA Communities Act.

Aimed at easing the state's housing shortage, the law applies to 177 cities and towns that have — or border communities with — MBTA rapid transit or commuter rail stops. Nearly three-quarters — or 130 communities — have until the end of 2024 to pass compliant zoning rules.

Some towns have pushed back on the state mandate, but as of early May, 44 communities have passed compliant zoning laws.

Where does the MBTA Communities Act come from?

The MBTA Communities Act is an initiative to help resolve the housing crisis in Massachusetts. The state has among the highest home prices and rents in the nation, driven by an estimated shortage of 200,000 housing units.

The act was signed into law by former Gov. Charlie Baker in January 2021 as part of a larger economic development bill.

What exactly does the law require?

The law requires MBTA communities to have at least one zoning district where the construction of multi-family housing is allowed "as of right," meaning no special permits or zoning variances are necessary. Multi-family housing can mean anything from triple-deckers to apartment buildings, as long as the district has a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre.

In communities with MBTA service, the multifamily zoning districts must be located less than half a mile from a subway station, commuter rail station, ferry terminal or bus station. The districts can't impose age restrictions on tenants and units must be suitable for families with children.

Lastly, each town's zoning plan must allow for a minimum number of theoretical new multi-family housing units. That number is based on each town's current housing stock and how they're categorized under the law, and can range from less than 100 for small towns to over 10,000 for cities like Cambridge and Worcester. But the law does not require construction of these units, and experts say the real number of new housing that will be built due to the law will likely be much lower.

What are the deadlines for complying with the law?

The deadline for the dozen "rapid transit communities" with MBTA subway or trolley stops passed on Dec. 31, 2023. "Commuter rail communities" and "adjacent communities" — which together account for 130 cities and towns —must have the required zoning in place by Dec. 31, 2024. "Adjacent small towns" have until Dec. 31, 2025 to pass a zoning law.

What happens if a town doesn't comply?

If a community fails to comply with the requirements by its deadline, it could lose certain state funding for housing, planning, roads, bridges, water and sewers.

Currently, the state considers two communities — Milton and Holden — to be out of compliance.

However, only Milton is facing penalties, since the compliance deadline has passed for rapid transit communities. In a February referendum, Milton residents overturned a zoning plan that was passed by the Town Meeting in 2023. As a result, Milton has already begun lost access to 13 grant programs funded by the state housing office. The town is also facing a lawsuit from Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell.

Even though Holden has an end-of-2024 deadline, the state says the Worcester County town is considered out of compliance because its leaders haven't even submitted an "action plan" to draft a new zoning law, and say they have no intention of doing so.


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Sydney Ko Newsroom Fellow
Sydney Ko is a WBUR Newsroom Fellow.



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