Multi-family Zoning Requirements for Compliant MBTA Communities

Last Updated 5/20/22; new information is not anticipated until the Massachusetts Department of Housing & Community Development finalizes their guidelines, anticipated no earlier than Fall 2022.

State Draft Guidelines 

On December 15, 2021, the Massachusetts Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD) posted at their Draft Guidelines for the Multi-Family Zoning Requirement for MBTA Communities. This requirement is described in the new section 1A of M.G.L. c.40A (the Zoning Act), including compliance in order to seek state funding from: the Housing Choice Initiative, the Local Capital Projects Fund, and the MassWorks Infrastructure Program. DHCD expects to issue final guidelines sometime in 2022. 

Enacted as part of the economic development bill in January 2021, this new regulation requires that an MBTA community shall have at least one zoning district in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right (i.e., does not require a discretionary permit such as a Special Permit) and meets other criteria set forth in the statute:

  • Minimum gross density of 15 units per acre
  • Not more than ½ miles from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station, if applicable.
  • No age restrictions
  • Suitable for families with children.

What does this mean for Brookline?

The Department of Planning and Community Development is currently analyzing the differences between the Town’s current Zoning By-Law and the Draft Guidelines. We are studying the Guidelines’ dimensional requirements such as the minimum size of a contiguous multifamily district and minimum unit density within that district. Our staff are also exploring alternative ways to potentially comply with key elements of our existing zoning (e.g., requiring affordable housing deed restrictions related to inclusionary zoning provisions without a special permit, conducting design review without a special permit). 

The Town does not currently rely on the state funding programs listed above. However, DHCD continues to remind communities that this is a requirement independent of whether we want to have access to such funds (see question E4 at DHCD's FAQs).

To remain in compliance, the Town of Brookline needs to:

  • hold a briefing with the Select Board and submit information regarding existing compliance to the state by May 2, 2022; [completed; see Information Packet ]
  • have a state-approved action plan to come into compliance by no later than March 31, 2023; and
  • such action plan must plan for any zoning changes to be adopted no later than December 31, 2023.

We will continue to post updated information and any staff analysis to this webpage, including our community engagement plan and related public meetings/hearings with various land use Boards and the Select Board.