Senate Housing Bond Bill Update: What’s in and out

By Mike Kriesberg

Last week, the Massachusetts Senate passed their version of Governor Healey’s Affordable Homes Act, bringing it one step closer to becoming law. When the House passed their version earlier this month, our Executive Director Jesse, wrote up a brief legislative update on central components of that bill, along with an overview of its path forward. To continue that thread, I’ve done the same for the Senate bill, summarizing key features and talking through the last hurdles it needs to clear before it becomes law.  

What’s In and What’s Out

  1. Accessory Dwelling Units: After considering several changes, the Senate maintained and passed the exact same language as was adopted in the House. This includes three of the most important features of that provision including by-right permitting, bans on owner-occupancy requirements, and limitations on parking mandates.
  2. Capital Spending: The Senate authorized roughly $1 billion less in spending than the House, putting their total 5-year authorization at $5.4 billion. A large chunk of that difference is the result of the Senate leaving out the $1 billion authorized by the House to expand the service area of the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority.
  3. Real Estate Transfer Fee: Just like the House, the Senate ultimately chose not to include a local-option real estate transfer fee in its bill. 
  4. Additional Policy Items: After being left out of the House bill, the Senate adopted two additional AHMA priorities. The first is a provision that would add inclusionary zoning to the list of zoning changes that cities and towns can make via a simple majority vote, and the second is a section sealing past eviction records in certain cases. 

AHMA’s Priorities

Our top priority in the Senate was ensuring that it maintained – at a minimum – the ADU provision passed in the House. We also advocated for amendments that would have improved the bill, like cracking down on the ability of local regulations or homeowners associations to limit ADU production and expanding the number of homes that can build an ADU to include all single-family homes, not just those in a single-family zoned district. Even though these changes were not incorporated, the Senate did maintain the provision passed in the House, meaning that if signed into law, Massachusetts will have the strongest statewide ADU law in New England.

What Comes Next

Now that a bill has passed both chambers, a bi-partisan conference committee composed of members of both chambers will be appointed to negotiate the differences between the two bills. The final compromise version they agree to will then be sent back to the House and Senate for one more vote in each chamber, before making its way to the Governor’s desk. 

Importantly, all of this must happen before formal session ends on July 31st. After July 31st, passing legislation is almost impossible because any one member can stop a bill from advancing by calling for a quorum. 

The majority of the negotiations in committee will focus on the differences between the two bills. As noted earlier, this includes levels and areas of capital spending authorizations and policy items, such as inclusionary zoning and eviction sealing. 

One difference they will not be negotiating however, is the section legalizing accessory dwelling units. While it is not a done deal yet, the fact that both the House and Senate passed the same ADU provision gives us a good indication that it will likely make it into the final version. If this holds true, this would be a major win for the pro-housing movement in Massachusetts. ADUs are proven to be a safe and affordable housing option for people at all stages of life. Allowing them across the state will bring this underutilized option to thousands of Massachusetts residents. 

AHMA is looking forward to working with our legislative partners to get this landmark bill over the finish line and passed before July 31st.

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