MBTA Communities refers to Section 3A of Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40A, as passed by the state legislature in 2021. Its relation to the MBTA comes from the law’s requirements being contingent on the type(s) of MBTA transit—e,g, the rapid transit, commuter rail, bus—that serve a given municipality.
The law specifically only pertains to zoning, not construction. Zoning is the way in which towns legally specify what types of uses and sizes of buildings can be on a given piece of property.
The law states: “An MBTA community shall have a zoning ordinance or by-law that provides for at least 1 district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right; provided, however, that such multi-family housing shall be without age restrictions and shall be suitable for families with children.”
The law defines a district of reasonable size as having a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre. It must be located within 1/2 mile from the relevant transit option(s) in a given town. At least half of the district must comprise contiguous lots of land of a minimum of 5 acres. The total district is required to be 50 acres or 1.5% of the “developable land” available.
Multi-family housing means housing with at least 3 units on one piece of property.
Unit capacity refers to the total number of units that could be placed on one piece of property, based on the town’s zoning regulations. Unit capacity is not a count of existing homes nor a projection of what will be built, it is an estimated count of what is technically allowable.
As of right means that projects that comply with the zoning bylaws can cleanly move through the approvals process (Site Plan Review) without requiring any discretionary approvals such as special permits, variances, or waivers. In our discussions we will use the terms “as of right” or “by-right” interchangeably.
The law does not allow for restrictions or specifications on age restrictions, size of individual units, bedroom counts/size, or number of occupants—the zone must allow multi-family housing be suitable for families with children.
The law does not require any affordability restrictions, although towns can choose to include them if they wish. More information is below.
We recommend visiting the state Department of Housing & Community Development’s general MBTA Communities page for more info.