Boston Overhauls Zoning Board


2022-10-11 Business Update - Boston Overhauls Zoning Board

Resource Person:

Douglas Quattrochi - Doug

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My name is Doug Quattrochi. I’m the executive director of MassLandlords, and I’m here to give you today’s business update, which is about how Boston has overhauled its Zoning Board of Appeals.

Now you might not think that and its Brutalist architecture has much to do with the rest of Massachusetts, but what’s happened here is an indication of the kind of reform that’s needed around the state. The Boston Globe editorial pages put it pretty succinctly, “Mayor Wu has cleaned house.” Out of 14 Zoning Board of Appeals members, 10 of them have now been reappointed including the long-time chair who was there for over 20 years.

The whole zoning process is really emblematic of a broken policy framework around land use and housing. If you look at the number of appeals in the city and you look at what’s actually going on, people were asking for permission to have ordinary decks, to have multifamily housing where there’s plenty of room for it, and even to get a license to operate a rooming house.

As a matter of fact, MassLandlords very unusually weighted in for this landlord trying to get a license to operate this building as a rooming house because there are people living there who can’t afford an entire apartment and would much rather rent by the room.

We actually submitted testimony to the Boston Zoning Board of Appeals, and unfortunately due to the people who are no longer there since the mayor’s action, that appeal was actually pretty unfairly dismissed. We actually encouraged the landlord to bring a complaint against the ZBA, but they didn’t want to go that direction.

In any event, the whole policy setup for zoning and how we have to set up permission to do very basic things like build new housing is really a big problem. It’s part of why the Metropolitan Area Planning Council has put together this zoning atlas where you can see even in a town like Boston, which you would think of as being very dense, more than half of the city is not shaded. It means no multifamily as of right. That means you can only have a single-family home effectively on that space.

Now this is not good. We need a lot more housing in Massachusetts, and that’s why MassLandlords has made it a priority to advocate for zoning reform. We really want to thank our members and our property rights supporters for making this advocacy possible and for helping us to update you about these changes as zoning is slowly reformed and improved in Massachusetts.

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