MBTA Zoning Lawsuit Addressing Housing Crisis
Lawyers for Civil Rights and Brown Rudnick File MBTA Communities Zoning Lawsuit to Challenge Suburban Reluctance to Address Housing Crisis
As Affordable Housing Crisis Devastates Low-Income Families and Community Groups, Plaintiffs Ask Supreme Judicial Court To Make Clear That New MBTA Communities Zoning Law Is Mandatory
The Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance (“CMHA”) and a low-income family searching for affordable housing have sued the Town of Holden for its refusal to comply with the Commonwealth’s new MBTA Communities Zoning Law (the “Law”). A resident of Holden has also joined the challenge. The Law seeks to address the affordable housing crisis by requiring 177 communities with or near MBTA service (“MBTA Communities”) to include zoning districts in their communities where multi-family housing can be built more freely. The complaint, filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights and Brown Rudnick LLP, contends that all MBTA Communities must comply with the Law’s multi-family zoning mandate.
Massachusetts is mired in an affordable housing crisis, which disproportionately harms communities of color. “Exclusionary zoning” policies that inhibit multi-family housing production suppress the Commonwealth’s housing supply and ensure that low-income residents and people of color have few affordable options.
By stating that MBTA Communities “shall have” at least one reasonably sized zoning district where multi-family housing can be freely built, the Law aims to reduce exclusionary zoning, boost housing supply to meet demand, and reduce housing costs. Municipal officials from Holden claim that compliance with the Law is optional despite guidance from the Attorney General and state legislators that it is mandatory. Holden’s insistence on this point must be corrected to avoid a domino effect of non-compliance from other MBTA Communities.
“We must maximize every available tool to keep Central Massachusetts families housed in their communities of choice,” said CMHA CEO Leah Bradley. “With the unprecedented surge in rent prices and homelessness in recent years, more Massachusetts families are becoming homeless and they are staying homeless longer. Communities across Central Massachusetts are working with us to find solutions to the housing crisis. We are asking the same of Holden.”
“This lawsuit aims to support municipalities that are working to comply with the Law, by ensuring that recalcitrant towns like Holden do not shirk their obligations,” said LCR staff attorney Jacob Love. “Every municipality covered by this Law, especially predominantly white, affluent towns like Holden, must relinquish exclusionary zoning and contribute to the cause.”
“Solving the affordable housing crisis is an urgent matter in the Commonwealth,” said Rebecca MacDowell Lecaroz, who is leading the Brown Rudnick team working with LCR on behalf of the Plaintiffs. “The untenable position taken by the Town of Holden must be unquestionably discredited to ensure timely compliance by all of the covered communities.”
The Law’s first compliance deadline, which required towns to file a six-page form explaining how they will comply with the Law, expired six months ago on January 31, 2023. Seven towns initially failed to meet that deadline but, following demand letters sent by LCR, only two of those towns remain non-compliant: Holden and Berkley.
The Law’s first compliance deadline, which required towns to file a six-page form explaining how they will comply with the Law, expired six months ago on Jan. 31, 2023. Seven towns initially failed to meet that deadline but, following demand letters sent by LCR, only one of those towns remain non-compliant: Holden; Berkley submitted an action plan within an hour of LCR and Brown Rudnick’s filing.
LCR and its client communities are committed to ensuring full compliance with the Law is achieved.
LCR and its client communities are committed to ensuring full compliance with the Law is achieved. To that end, LCR today also sent a request to Berkley seeking public records in the town’s possession regarding compliance with the Law.
The complaint is available here:MBTA-Zoning-Complaint-Central-MA-Housing-Alliance-v.-Holden-FINAL