Background on the MBTA Communities Law

Massachusetts is facing a chronic housing shortage that has sent home prices and rents soaring. This burdens families and individuals and hinders growth in the Commonwealth. Arlington has seen the results of this shortage first-hand. We all know families who have been priced out of town or older residents who cannot afford to downsize here. Our teachers and municipal workers often cannot live in the community they serve and are instead forced into long commutes. Because Arlington’s current zoning allows only single-family homes in most of town, we cannot build the kind of accessible and sustainable housing that is consistent with our town’s values. 

What is the MBTA Communities Law?

Massachusetts General Law, Ch. 40A, Section 3A (the “MBTA Communities Law”) seeks to address these issues. It requires communities in Massachusetts that benefit from MBTA service to create a zoning district of “reasonable size” in which multi-family housing (defined as at least three units on a single lot) is allowed by right. 

How Arlington Can Comply With the MBTA Communities Law

To comply with the MBTA Communities Law, Arlington must allow multi-family homes in a district of at least 32 acres, at a density of at least 15 dwellings/acre. The district must have a capacity of at least 2,046 homes. This does not mean that the town must build this many new homes. It means that, if the land were empty lots, people would be allowed to build 2,046 homes there. 

Arlington does not at present comply with the MBTA Communities Law. This is because our zoning laws do not allow multi-family housing by right anywhere in town. 

Complying Gives Arlington Benefits

Arlington must comply with the Law in order to remain eligible for funding from 

  • the MassWorks Infrastructure Program
  • the Housing Choice Initiative
  • the Local Capital Projects Fund

In addition, if Arlington complies with the Law by January 2024, the town will be eligible to participate in a pilot program to restrict fossil fuel infrastructure in new buildings. Over 90% of town meeting members supported this “fossil fuel ban” in 2020. 

Read a more detailed overview of the Law here

Next Part: Community Input on the Law