Has Milton's Paradise been Regained in Housing NO Vote?


Although several towns, including Middleboro and Chelmsford, have reportedly  considered challenging the state's MBTA zoning mandate that forces communities to accept, new, dense housing in areas near their transit facilities, none actually succeeded until this week. Wednesdsay, the no votes won the day in Milton, forcing a rollback of the pro-MBTA zoning approved late last year and risking the state funding that many towns depend on. Indeed, that threat to the purse strings was perhaps the strongest arguments that the pro-MBTA forces in town had, helping them to easily push through major changes in town practices here.

And while the Administration was vociferous in supporting a yes vote on the Milton ballot question that went before the voters a day late, on Wednesday, due to the storm, since the win by the "no" voters was announced, it's been mostly crickets...

The exception was Housing and Livable Communities Secretary Ed Augustus who issued a length statement and further delineation of the consequences of defying the commonwealth.  The statement that follows is his

“The Healey-Driscoll administration is deeply disappointed that Milton’s zoning plan was rejected. This is not only a loss for Milton but for our entire state, as we desperately need more housing near transit to lower costs. While we are hopeful that we can work with the town to put forward a new plan that would bring them into compliance with the MBTA Communities Law, at this time they are non-compliant, which means they will begin losing out on significant grant funding from the state. We are grateful to the 175 communities that are in compliance with the law for recognizing that we all have a role to play in addressing our state’s housing challenges.”

Additional background from state sources elaborates on what Milton may face...

Upon certification of a vote that overturns the December Town Meeting zoning, the town of Milton will be non-compliant with the MBTA Communities law. If and when Milton Town Meeting approves zoning amendments aimed at compliance with the MBTA Communities law, they may apply for a compliance determination. EOHLC is committed to working with town officials as they prepare new zoning.

The consequences of non-compliance are significant.

  • By statute, compliance is a prerequisite to receive MassWorks and HousingWorks grants. Milton has benefited from these grant programs in the past. In 2023 Milton received a $30,000 Community Planning grant to fund planning activities for MBTA Communities law compliance, and Milton also received a $30,000 Community Planning grant to draft zoning language for MBTA Communities law compliance. In 2021, Milton received $60,000 from EOHLC (then DHCD) in consultant services to assist businesses recover from impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic through the Local Rapid Recovery Program (LRRP).
  • Municipalities that are compliant with MBTA Communities will have a strong competitive advantage in all the capital programs offered by the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC), as well as other grants that are a part of the Community One Stop for Growth consolidated grant programs:
    • MassWorks , EOED
    • HousingWorks, EOHLC
    • Housing Choice grants, EOHLC
    • Community Planning Grants, EOHLC
    • Massachusetts Downtown Initiative, EOED
    • Urban Agenda, EOED
    • Rural and Small Town Development Fund, EOED
    • Brownfields Redevelopment Fund, MassDevelopment
    • Site Readiness Program, MassDevelopment
    • Underutilized Properties Program, MassDevelopment
    • Collaborative Workspace Program, MassDevelopment
    • Real Estate Services Technical Assistance, MassDevelopment
    • Commonwealth Places Programs, MassDevelopment

While non-compliance is not an absolute bar to participation in these additional programs, in general an application by a non-compliant community is unlikely to be selected for funding absent extraordinary circumstances.

  • As described in the Guidelines, the following grants that are not part of the Community One-Stop for Growth consolidated grant process will also take non-compliance into consideration:
    • Land Use Planning Grants, EOEEA,
    • Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity (LAND) Grants, EOEEA, and
    • Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Planning and Project Grants, EOEEA

Massachusetts has among the highest and fastest-growing housing costs of any state in the nation. To address this housing crisis, all communities in the MBTA service district must zone to allow for multifamily housing as of right, with a greater obligation for communities with better access to transit stations.

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