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Greater Boston Board Works toward Zoning Reform

February 2018

The Greater Boston Real Estate Board (GBREB) may technically be a local association, but as it serves the capital city, what it does at City Hall often sets precedent for the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts. For the past few decades, in partnership with the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®, GBREB has been wrestling with the complicated and often thorny issue of zoning, with a goal of removing barriers to housing production and economic development. With them all the way was NAR consultant Robinson & Cole, LLC, the law firm retained to provide expert analysis of land-use proposals.

Patricia Baumer, GBREB Director of Government Affairs, explains the tremendous value that this Land Use Initiative brings to her board’s efforts to reform the antiquated zoning act governing the region. “It’s a difficult issue to begin with, made more so by the fact that it’s largely a matter of case law, at this point. There’s a lot of apprehension in the REALTOR® community about opening it up to change, as that could invite considerable political risk,” she observes. “But developers require predictability when it comes to zoning. So, it’s a delicate issue, and we’re very lucky to have NAR’s team of consultants navigating the necessary reforms with us, step-by-step. They’re nationally respected, smart, responsive and very hard-working; over the years, I’ve known them to work late to get us answers, and more than once, they’ve held our hands through tough negotiations in the State House. Hands-down, they are the single most indispensable tool in our toolbox.”

Last session, with Robinson & Cole facilitating, a joint GBREB/Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® working group dlooked at how existing zoning regulations contribute to the housing crisis by impeding the production of the quantity and variety of housing types; it became an omnibus bill sponsored in January 2015 by State Senator Michael Rodrigues, a REALTOR® Champion from the Boston suburb of Westport. From allowing multifamily housing construction by right and promoting smart growth with cluster development to reducing red tape on existing permits and reducing costs and permit denials by applying established federal law, the bill sought to dissolve obstacles to the development of much-needed housing stock, the lack of which hinders economic development in the region. While portions of the HOME bill were incorporated into an omnibus bill in the Senate, REALTORS® opposed the final version that came up for a vote, because of some other, highly objectionable, sections of the bill.  “On balance, it would have done more harm than good,” says Baumer.

“We are so grateful that the National Association of REALTORS® understands that this is such a complicated, nuanced issue, and one that we’re not going to resolve overnight,” says Baumer. The fact that they provide this invaluable resource, and that they stick with us with this continued support, will make the difference between Massachusetts achieving zoning reform or not.”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of the Greater Boston Area are using the REALTOR® Party’s Land Use Initiative to address barriers to housing production across the Massachusetts, contact Patricia Baumer, GBREB Director of Government Affairs, at (617) 423-8700.

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