Massachusetts' Comprehensive Permit Law (“Chapter 40B”) (1969) is America’s oldest statute attempting to override regulatory barriers to affordable housing. The statute provides developers of affordable housing with strong tools for expediting their applications and getting adverse local zoning and land use decisions reversed by a statewide Housing Appeals Committee. Those procedures govern localities that lack the defined minimum amount of affordable housing – generally 10% of the municipality’s housing units. 

 

Chapter 40B has resulted in more than 28,000 units of affordable housing being added to Massachusetts’s inventory. It also has been something of a model for subsequent statutes, notably those in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Illinois.

 

However, Massachusetts’ housing continues to be among the least affordable in America, and Chapter 40B has been under persistent attack for both its weaknesses (such as its abuse by some for-profit developers) and its strengths (such as its history of state overrides of local zoning decisions).

 

An effort to repeal Chapter 40B was on the state ballot for the first time in the November 2010 elections. That effort was voted down by a margin of 58% to 42%. However, Chapter 40B’s long history suggests many improvements that might increase its effectiveness greatly. Law clerk Shakira Mack (GWU Law ’12) wrote an extensive analysis this summer of the statute and possible improvements to it. 

 

To round out EHI’s understanding of Massachusetts’ efforts, law clerk James Green (GMU Law ’12) reported on developments under related statutes – notably its 2003 Smart Growth statute (“Chapter 40R”). That statute fuses efforts to increase affordable housing with initiatives to concentrate development near jobs and transportation systems. It aims to reduce sprawl and accompanying problems (such as undue depletion of open space, excessive commutes to work and services, and excessive energy use (especially of fossil fuels)). Massachusetts’ extensive statutory experience provides many valuable lessons and insights into what may work and what has not worked.