GentriWatch: Will a Statewide Zoning Overhaul Help Boston’s Housing Crisis?

Plus, affordable housing advocates score a win against the ZBA.

Welcome to GentriWatch, where we look for signs of gentrification happening around the city.


All eyes are on Beacon Hill, as lawmakers weigh the first comprehensive overhaul of Massachusetts’ zoning laws since the 1970s. Could this be the deus ex machina Boston needs to stave off its looming housing crisis?

The bill, expected to be debated in the Senate next week, hopes to loosen restrictive municipal zoning regulations by allowing owners of single-family houses to build accessory apartments on the property without needing special permits, while local zoning ordinances must allow for at least one district in which a multi-family housing development would not require any special permits.

“This is a really, really smart and balanced bill and I think there is enough in here that everyone who’s been at the table liked that there will be good consensus that it is a balanced bill,” Sen. Dan Wolf told State House News Service. “It really modernizes zoning in Massachusetts to bring it up to where it is in most states around the country.”

Unsurprisingly, the bill has some real estate industry organizers up in arms, even though it extends the duration of special permits from a maximum of two years to a minimum of three. The so-called Real Estate Coalition—comprised of the NAIOP Massachusetts, the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, and the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts—called the legislation “poorly defined and ill-conceived” and “unduly bureaucratic,” despite liking a few of its provisions.

With just two months left, Wolf is anxious to see the bill make its way through the Legislature. “I hope they’ll understand that after 40-some years there is a sense of urgency here,” he said.

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As previously reported in GentriWatch, My Diner in South Boston will close. The 12-year-old breakfast staple will be demolished for—you guessed it—luxury condos, of which there simply aren’t enough in Southie.

“Everyone is looking for us. Basically, the community of South Boston, the people, they eat here,” co-owner Ela Bashllari told Eater in February, regarding a possible relocation. “All of them eat here, so they’re trying to find us a space for the time being.”

But hope springs eternal, even when lorded over by soulless, identical towers of blue-gray glass. My Diner’s owners posted on Facebook that a spring 2017 reopening elsewhere might be a possibility.

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Affordable housing advocates in Jamaica Plain won a long-simmering battle against City Hall last week, with the state Attorney General’s Office ruling that Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeal intentionally broke the law while voting to approve required variances for the controversial 3200 Washington Street apartment complex in Egleston Square.

Assistant AG Kevin Manganaro ruled that the ZBA had failed to post a public notice of the hearing on the development as required by the state’s Open Meeting Law, and proceeded with the meeting even after they were warned multiple times that it would be illegal to do so.

“The ruling that the ZBA illegally approved 3200 Washington Street affirms what the community has known all along: the City does not prioritize community input and needs, and instead is rushing to approve expensive, unaffordable housing at the cost of the diversity and affordability of our neighborhoods,” 100% Real Affordability in Egleston, the group that filed the complaint with the AG’s office, said in a statement Thursday.

Though Manganaro recommended a $1,000 civil penalty and mandatory training in Open Meeting Law for the ZBA’s members, their vote in favor of the project stands.

Notice something changing in your neighborhood? Let me know: [email protected], @KyleClauss.