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Neighbor to Neighbor hosts housing discussion today

LYNN — Neighbor To Neighbor hosts a discussion on affordable housing in Lynn today from 2-4 p.m. at the Lynn Community Health Center, 269 Union St.

The discussion takes place in the same week the state Legislature reviewed a bill to increase the number of cities and towns adopting zoning districts intended to encourage housing production.

About 10 percent of the 351 Massachusetts communities now have the special zones but the Massachusetts House on Thursday, according to the State House News Service, gave initial approval to a bill sponsored by Housing Committee Co-chairman Rep. Kevin Honan that would lower the threshold needed for a municipality to approve what state law describes as “smart growth” zoning overlay districts that allow for greater density and a higher percentage of affordable housing in certain locations.

Under a section of law known as Chapter 40R, cities or towns adopting such districts — which can be sited in areas near transit or concentrated development — are entitled to incentive payments from the state’s Smart Growth Housing Trust Fund, the News Service reported.

Establishing a 40R district requires a two-thirds vote of a local legislative body, such as a city council or town meeting. Honan’s bill would change that requirement to a majority vote.

The Massachusetts Association of Realtors supports the bill, believing the smart growth districts can help bring new housing units online more quickly.

In testimony in favor of the bill, the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association wrote the two-thirds vote requirement is part of the reason 40R districts have been “underused” in Massachusetts. Lowering it would mean “more cities and towns could take advantage of this smart growth tool,” the association said.

There are currently 38 fully approved 40R districts in Massachusetts, ranging in size from a third of an acre in Marblehead to an area of more than 186 acres in Ludlow, according to the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Marblehead, Norwood and Reading each have two separate areas designated as smart growth districts. Statewide, 11 of the districts are within a half-mile of a transit station.

Neighbor To Neighbor in a statement announcing today’s affordability meeting noted: “This upcoming conversation will be an opportunity to learn more about the issue, and to start taking action that will ensure our voices and interests are heard and heeded in the coming months.”

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