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  • Edrina Laude

Massachusetts’ Housing Crisis: Attorney General Campbell sues the Town of Milton


On February 27, Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell (D-MA) filed a lawsuit against the town of Milton due to their disobedience of the MBTA Communities Act. This act enforces towns that hold MBTA services and municipalities neighboring these public transportation hubs to create multi-family housing units. This lawsuit comes after 54% of town residents voted against a land-use plan that focused on creating high density housing that would satisfy the act’s requirements. 


Though the state has threatened the town with legal action, Milton residents have stayed firm in their position by presenting a response that questions the validity and enforcement of the act. Primary concerns are related to the chance of increased traffic, strain on the town’s infrastructure, and the percentage of total housing units that must be considered multi-family. Denny Swenson, an opponent of the land-use plan, expressed that although many opponents would like to vote for a plan that would increase high density housing in Milton, the plan must not put such a strong economic burden on the town.


Swenson explained, “People showed up to vote because they really thought we could come up with something better for the town…The idea of big government telling municipal government what to do, I think that was a big driver to the polls.”


Additionally, Milton’s categorization as a “rapid transit community” worries some residents. As a rapid transit community, Milton is classified as a town with at least “100 acres of developable station area associated with one or more subway stations, or MBTA Silver Line bus rapid transit stations.” Within this definition, a subway station would be a stop anywhere on the MBTA Red Line, Green Line, Orange Line, or Blue Line. However, Milton is home to a Mattapan Trolley Line stop, which the Chair of the Milton Select Board, Michael Zullas, states is a separate line under the MBTA’s literature. In terms of the housing portion of the act, placing Milton in a different category, for instance, as an “adjacent community” or “adjacent small town”, would allow the town to create a smaller number of multi-family housing than a rapid transit community or a “commuter rail community”, therefore putting less strain on the town’s resources. 


However, Attorney General Campbell has fired back with a lawsuit and declared at a press conference, “This is mandatory, we have a housing crisis…Because you have a public good in public transit in your community, you have to come into compliance with this critical piece of legislation.” Additionally, Justice Serge Georges recently decided that the lawsuit will head to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in October 2024. This decision comes as an early victory for Attorney General Campbell since the case may delay the zoning plans that other municipalities are working on to fulfill the act’s requirements. By presenting the case to the court sooner, delays are less likely to occur. The decision also ensures that either party can not issue many appeals against the court’s decisions, which may have occurred if the case was dealt with in a Land or Superior court. 


While Milton is dealing with legal issues due to the MBTA Communities Act, it is also suffering financially due to the legislation. On February 21, Ed Augustus, Secretary of Housing and Livable Communities, informed Milton’s Town Administrator, Nicholas Milano, that the town would no longer receive a $140,800 grant that would finance upgrades to a seawall and dock at Milton’s Landing. Augustus also explained that Milton’s disobedience of the act would disqualify the town from receiving both MassWorks and HousingWorks grants, both of which would benefit any infrastructure programs that the town would want to pursue.


In defense of the disqualification, Augustus wrote, “The law is clear – compliance with the MBTA Communities Law is mandatory. At this time, Milton is the only rapid transit community in Massachusetts that is not in compliance. If we do not all come together to build more housing, we will not be able to overcome our affordability crisis. We need every community to do their part.”

 

Massachusetts’ housing crisis has forced the state to come up with controversial proposals. From suggesting migrants be placed in Boston’s Hynes Convention Center to requiring MBTA communities to build high density housing, it is clear that the crisis is only building. According to Governor Maura Healey’s administration, more than 11,000 migrants entered Massachusetts through resettlement agencies between October 2022 and September 2023. While state legislators begin to feel the pressure of coming up with successful, yet swift solutions on housing for migrants, they also must keep in mind that these programs, such as the MBTA Communities Act, could strain existing communities, such as Milton. Finding an equilibrium between housing disadvantaged communities and appeasing current Massachusetts residents is a complex challenge, but one that must be tackled. 


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