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  • Writer's pictureOffice of Rep. Vargas

Why the MBTA is key — to easing the housing crunch

Authors: Andy X. Vargas and Nate Robertson

MASSACHUSETTS IS EXPERIENCING a severe housing crisis. Talk to anyone who has tried to purchase a home in the past few years or tried to find an affordable apartment and you will hear the frustration of people who are just trying to find a place to live.

The average price of a home in the state rose to nearly half a million dollars in 2021. The home-buying markets are staggeringly competitive and increasingly inaccessible for working people.

Long time residents have been priced out of their communities because of rising rent costs. First-time home-buyers who’ve been saving for years are being out-bid in an increasingly crowded market.

This crisis is being felt in communities across the Commonwealth, especially in Gateway Cities where the cost of housing has historically been lower and more affordable for working people. Massachusetts’ housing crisis can only be sustainably addressed through a robust increase in the supply of housing. Fortunately, steps have been taken recently to increase the supply of housing in MBTA communities.

The 2021 Economic Development Bill signed by Gov. Baker changes the zoning requirements for MBTA communities. The bill includes a provision, championed by Rep. Andy X. Vargas of Haverhill and Rep. Kevin Honan of Allston, requiring that MBTA communities must have at least one zoning district no more than a half mile away from an MBTA station that provides zoning that allows for development of multi-family homes.

The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has recently released draft guidelines for MBTA communities to adopt to comply with this new law. The guidelines set the number of housing units that these multi-family zoning districts must allow for, which is calculated by taking into account the existing housing supply and the level of transit service that exists in the community. The minimum amount of housing that these communities need to allow for is 750 units; most communities must zone for more depending on the existing supply of housing and their level of transit service as categorized by DHCD.

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