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MA Affordable Housing Overview


The Massachusetts Comprehensive Permit Law M.G.L. c. 40B §§ 20-23, enacted as Ch. 774 of the Acts 1969, also known as the Comprehensive Permit Statute, Ch. 40B or the “Anti-Snob” Zoning Act, encourages the Construction of Affordable Housing using locally granted permits.

It was enacted to help address the shortage of affordable housing statewide by reducing unnecessary barriers created by the local approval process, local zoning and other restrictions. A “Comprehensive Permit” is an all-encompassing permit which subsumes all permits and approvals normally issued by other local boards.

The permit typically allows a developer to build at a higher density than is normally allowed under a municipality’s zoning laws. The law enables a Local Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), in consultation with other local boards and officials to grant a single permit to an eligible developer pursuing a development of low-or moderate-income housing.

The Act requires all communities to use a streamlined review process to develop such housing, including request for zoning and other regulatory waivers.

Upon receipt of a “Project Eligibility Letter,” a developer can submit an application to the local Zoning Board of Appeals for a comprehensive permit in accordance with MGL 40B and regulatory agreement. The Board must convene a hearing within 30 days of the application’s receipt.

The Zoning Board of Appeals holds a public hearing. The board, within 180 days of the application may take the following action:

  • Grant the permit
  • Deny the permit
  • Grant the permit with conditions.

If a permit is denied or approved with conditions rendering a development uneconomical, the applicant may appeal to the state’s Housing Appeals Committee (HAC) within 20 days of the decision.

The state Housing Appeals Committee (HAC) can overrule a local decision regarding a permit that has been denied outright or one in which conditions have been issued which are economically unfeasible, unless the proposed development presents serious health or safety concerns that cannot be mitigated and presents an “irremediable hazard of gravity” that override the need for affordable housing.

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