How the Affordable Housing Law Works

The goal of the Affordable Housing Law is to encourage the production of affordable housing in all cities and towns in Massachusetts. Passed in 1969, it sets a reasonable goal for all communities to provide at least 10% of their homes as affordable.

The Affordable Housing Law enables municipal zoning boards to approve affordable housing under flexible zoning rules if at least 20%-25% of the homes have long-term affordability restrictions. The proposal must meet all state environmental laws and building requirements.

To qualify, every proposal must first be approved under a state or federal housing program. At least 25% of the homes in the development must be affordable to households earning less than 80% of the area median income (approximately $66,000 for a family of four in Greater Boston). It’s the only state housing law that restricts developer profits. The developer must sign a regulatory agreement with the state and municipality and is then monitored by these agencies.

Once the development has received its eligibility determination from a state or federal entity, the developer can submit an application for a permit to the local Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). The ZBA consults with all other boards (Planning Board, Board of Health, Conservation Commission). This results in a more streamlined review process, though it involves a number of hearing sessions and extensive resident input.

The vast majority affordable housing proposals are negotiated at the local level and are approved by the ZBA with numerous conditions. Zoning Board officials have significant control over all aspects of the developments, such as design, number of homes, height, site plans, and utility improvements--as long as those changes do not make the proposal economically infeasible for the developer.