AG Sues Milton Over Housing Law Compliance

Healey: Housing Solutions “Need Collective Buy-In”

Andrea Campbell
Attorney General Andrea Campbell speaks to reporters on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. 

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 27, 2024…..The consequences for Milton voters rejecting a zoning reform plan did not end with losing state grant funding: the town now faces a legal complaint from Attorney General Andrea Campbell.

Campbell on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Milton and its building commissioner, Joe Atchue, alleging violations of the MBTA Communities Act, which requires dozens of cities and towns near the T to allow multifamily housing by right in certain areas.

Campbell asked a judge to order Milton to clear the way for more housing development, arguing that the law does not allow for communities to opt out of new zoning requirements. Zoning rules over the years have typically been set at the local level.

“The housing affordability crisis affects all of us: families who face impossible choices between food on the table or a roof over their heads, young people who want to live here but are driven away by the cost, and a growing workforce we cannot house,” Campbell said in a statement alongside the complaint. “The MBTA Communities Law was enacted to address our region-wide need for housing, and compliance with it is mandatory.”

Milton Town Meeting approved a zoning reform plan that would have complied with the law, which state lawmakers wove into an economic development package at the last minute in the 2019-2020 session. But opponents of the changes worried about excess development pursued a referendum, and a majority of Milton voters chose to spike the zoning plan.

“This law is mandatory, it is not voluntary,” the attorney general said Tuesday as a guest on GBH’s Boston Public Radio.

Campbell and Gov. Maura Healey have been warning for months against failing to comply with the MBTA Communities Act. The AG’s office in its complaint noted that Campbell issued an advisory nearly one year ago “stating unqualifiedly” that MBTA communities must comply with the law, which “does not provide any mechanism by which a town or city may opt out of this requirement.”

Last week, Housing and Livable Communities Secretary Ed Augustus wrote to Milton officials confirming that the town is no longer eligible for a recent $140,800 seawall and access improvement grant, will be ineligible to receive future MassWorks and HousingWorks grants, and will be at a competitive disadvantage when seeking other state funds.

“We’ve made it crystal clear along the way, what was at risk here, and what the threat was. So we hope that Milton will take a different direction, post-this lawsuit and not continue to waste time, frankly, but to come into compliance,” Campbell said.

She added that over the last year state government has provided them, and other communities, with resources to come into compliance with the law.

“The housing state agency gave them housing resources in the form of various grants to allow them to bring in someone to help them navigate this process, to develop a plan to offer technical assistance,” Campbell said. “And they developed that along the way, primarily the Select Board. They had resources from the state to develop a plan. So there is a plan there.”

Of the 177 communities that will have to rezone to encourage multi-family housing under the 2021 law, about 130 still have to implement it, Jim Braude of Boston Public Radio said on Tuesday. Several towns are considering referendums similar to Milton’s to ignore the law.

Campbell said on GBH that the lawsuit will send a message to those remaining 130 communities that they should not follow Milton’s direction, and that a court order for the town to comply will “encourage and incentivize every other municipality to proceed — as they already are — in coming into compliance with the MBTA Communities Law.”

Healey was also on the radio Tuesday, where she said she supported Campbell’s decision to sue the town — though she revealed earlier in the day that the attorney general hadn’t clued her in on it in advance.

Asked by reporters after an unrelated event earlier on Tuesday if Healey had asked Campbell to sue the town or met with the attorney general about it prior to the lawsuit, the governor replied, “No, she did it independently.”

Campbell emphasized to reporters later Tuesday that her office is independent of Healey and “everybody else.”

“We are accountable to the people, and so my team worked really hard to craft this complaint, of course to file it this morning,” Campbell said. “We kept our word. We said along the way if you do not come into compliance, we will do our job, which is to enforce the law here in Massachusetts.”

The attorney general said she hopes her office doesn’t need to file additional lawsuits to bring other municipalities into compliance with the law.

“This is not about a fight or fighting each other, this about working to address the housing crisis,” said Campbell, who lives in Mattapan, which borders Milton.

In a state with a long history of local control over zoning, some of the pushback from those who voted “no” had to do with the state being involved in what they deem a local matter. Others argued that the spirit of the law — that communities that benefit from rapid transit provided by the MBTA — didn’t apply in Milton as the community is served by a light-rail trolley.

At the time of the Feb. 14 vote, NBC 10 Boston reported that some Milton voters who rejected the housing mandate argued that T service to the town does not qualify for high-speed transit, and that the proposed housing units wouldn’t be located close to the MBTA station.

“I really hope we can work with the state on doing that, and then we can work on the goals of the actual legislation,” said No for Milton member Denny Swenson, according to NBC Boston reporting.

Despite Massachusetts’ long history of local zoning control, Healey said on the radio Tuesday that there are some challenges that need to be solved statewide.

“One of the special and wonderful things about this place is — coming up on town meeting season — 351 cities and towns control a lot. Local control over things like education, for example. We also, though, need to recognize that to solve the challenges that we need to solve for our state, we can’t go it alone, town by town, city by city. We need a collective agreement. We need collective buy-in. It’s the only way this is going to work,” Healey said.

Milton Select Board Chair Michael Zullas nor Town Administrator Nicholas Milano responded to requests for comments in response to Campbell’s remarks.

[Alison Kuznitz contributed to this story.]




  1. BIG PROBLEM for Gasbag Demagogue Affirmative Action Hire AG Andrea Campbell– the State’s ONLY remedy is the cut-off of funds enumerated in Mass.Gen. Laws Ch. 40A, Section 3A(b). The Statute is CRYSTAL CLEAR about that. It set forth NO provision for injunctive relief–

    (1) An MBTA community shall have a zoning ordinance or by-law that provides for at least 1 district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right; provided, however, that such multi-family housing shall be without age restrictions and shall be suitable for families with children. For the purposes of this section, a district of reasonable size shall: (i) have a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre, subject to any further limitations imposed by section 40 of chapter 131 and title 5 of the state environmental code established pursuant to section 13 of chapter 21A; and (ii) be located not more than 0.5 miles from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station, if applicable.

    An MBTA community that fails to comply with this section shall not be eligible for funds from: (i) the Housing Choice Initiative as described by the governor in a message to the general court dated December 11, 2017; (ii) the Local Capital Projects Fund established in section 2EEEE of chapter 29; (iii) the MassWorks infrastructure program established in section 63 of chapter 23A, or (iv) the HousingWorks infrastructure program established in section 27 of chapter 23B.

    The executive office of housing and livable communities, in consultation with the executive office of economic development, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, shall promulgate guidelines to determine if an MBTA community is in compliance with this section.


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