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December 7, 2023

Governor says she will block funding to communities that ignore MBTA zoning law

Photo | Courtesy of State House News Service Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey

Pledging to take enforcement "very seriously," Gov. Maura Healey said Thursday that her team will not hesitate to block some state funding for cities and towns that fail to comply with mandatory zoning reforms.

WBUR host Tiziana Dearing asked Healey during a radio interview if she would use the bully pulpit to press municipalities into compliance with a new measure that requires MBTA communities to have at least one zoning district where multi-family housing is permitted by right.

"If you don't comply with the act, then you're going to see us withholding as a state money for any number of programs that you're used to receiving money for," Healey replied. "That includes [money] for schools, it includes for roads and bridges, it includes for a whole host of things that are important to communities."

The governor said her administration "more than doubled" the list of programs whose funding can be withheld from non-compliant cities and towns.

In August, the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities issued new guidelines that call for considering a city or town's MBTA community zoning law compliance when making funding decisions in 13 additional state programs, adding to the three major grant programs -- MassWorks, the Housing Choice Initiative and the Local Capital Projects Fund -- outlined in the law.

The new guidelines also allow housing units in mixed-use buildings with commercial space required on the ground floor to count toward a city or town's overall compliance with the zoning reforms.

Healey said Thursday that there has been "significant compliance" with the law, which has set off complicated and tense deliberations in some communities, but added that "we're not all the way there."

"The other thing that I've stressed is that it's one thing to rezone, right, that's important. What's important, though, is things get actually built, and that's why this bond bill becomes so important," Healey said, referring to a $4.1 billion housing bond bill she filed in October. "We're in a time of higher costs. Everything is costing more, inflation is significant, and so we've got to work as a partner, as a state, with our communities, with our developers, to make sure that we are making the math work right now to get the kind of development going that we need to get going."

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