MBTA Communities Law & the Housing Needham (HONE) Advisory Group

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Overview

The MBTA Communities Law was passed in January, 2021. It applies to all cities and towns (excluding Boston) that have or are adjacent to communities that have MBTA transit stops.  The MBTA Communities law requires 177 municipalities in the Greater Boston area to confirm that they have a zoning district of reasonable size where multi-family housing (3+ units) is zoned for by-right. Needham does not currently comply with the law and the Town’s zoning must be revised to meet the new requirements.

mbta_communities_map_of_177_-_1-2023

The law addresses Massachusetts’ housing shortage by requiring all MBTA Communities to change zoning regulations around their local transit stations to allow multifamily housing by-right. The law’s statute outlines three critical components to the zoning changes:

  • Minimum gross density of 15 units per acre
  • Located not more than 0.5 miles from a commuter rail station, subway station, or ferry terminal, if applicable
  • No age restrictions and suitable for families with children

On August 10, 2022 the DHCD provided the final guidelines MBTA Communities must follow in order to be in compliance with the law. Attorney General, Andrea Campbell, followed up on this on March 15, 2023 with an advisory that further details the final guidelines and consequences of not abiding by the new law.  Needham is considered a “Commuter Rail” community and the final guidelines require the following:

Community

Community category

2020 Housing Units

Minimum multi-family unit capacity*

Minimum land area**

Developable station area***

% of district to be located in station area

Needham

Commuter Rail

11,891

1,784

50

1,223

90%







* Minimum multi-family unit capacity for most communities will be based on the 2020 housing stock and the applicable percentage for that municipality's community type. In some cases, the minimum unit capacity is derived from an extrapolation of the required minimum land area multiplied by the statutory minimum gross density of 15 dwelling units per acre. In cases where the required unit capacity from these two methods would exceed 25% of the community's housing stock, the required unit capacity has instead been capped at that 25% level.

** Minimum land area is 50 acres for all communities in the rapid transit, commuter rail and adjacent community types. There is no minimum land area requirement for adjacent small towns. Where 50 acres exceeds 1.5% of the developable land area in a town, a cap has been instituted that sets minimum land area to 1.5% of developable land area in the town.

*** Developable station area is derived by taking the area of a half-mile circle around an MBTA commuter rail station, rapid transit station, or ferry terminal and removing any areas comprised of excluded land.

Timeline

Needham has met the requirements for interim compliance, including the submission and approval of an Action Plan in January 2023 and received a Determination of Interim Compliance Letter from DHCD.  

In order to remain in compliance Needham must adopt compliant zoning by December 31, 2024.

Compliance Model

In order to determine whether MBTA Communities are in compliance with the new law, the state has created a compliance model. Cities and towns can enter zoning plans into the model to get a rough estimate of how many units per acre their proposed zoning would generate, as well as determine whether units are within a 0.5 mile radius to a transit stop among other components of the law.