Housing Choice Act Working Group

Eastbound train arrives in Lincoln Station.

2023 09 17 Update


There is a new FAQ about state grants below. Keep scrolling to learn about grants the Planning Department has secured in the past several years, and to learn more about the types of grants we may want to apply for in the future.

See below for a link to a recent article that discusses penalties for towns that do not comply:

August 2023 Boston Globe article: "State stiffens penalties for towns that snub new MBTA housing law"

Learn more and bring your questions to State of the Town. See you at the Lincoln School @ 10:00am on the 30th!

The Planning Department has secured just over $1.5M in state grants since 2021.

2023 08 22 Update


8/22/2023 Meeting Recording: https://us06web.zoom.us/rec/share/0wiAV0unLO5wi1pgE8efLF1wp0bpbCVJ0UXtZQ1m8AtvIlss_lJGp0Zjpo8jjC05.tTDnD6Xcqw3Q-1MX

2023 08 16 Update

The Housing Choice Act Working Group has been busy scheduling and hosting neighborhood meetings during the month of July. There was a neighborhood meeting at Battle Road Farm on July 12th and another well attended meeting at The Commons on July 14th. There will be additional meetings in the South Lincoln neighborhood in September.

In response to the two public forums that took place in June and the neighborhood meetings in July, we have developed a FAQ memo to answer commonly asked questions. To view it, scroll down to the bottom of the page or click here.  

The Planning Board will host a presentation and discussion at their meeting on September 26th. This will be a zoom meeting and the zoom information can be found below.

Planning Board Meeting:  Tuesday, September 26, 2023 07:00 PM 


Meeting ID: 826 4476 5504; Passcode: 078148

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STATE of the TOWN MEETING:  SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2023, 10:00AM - 3:00PM at the Lincoln School! The HCAWG will be providing the latest zoning proposals and looking for resident feedback!

2023 06 30 Update

Housing Choice Act Working Group Meeting Recording & Slides

Link to the Zoom recording: https://us06web.zoom.us/rec/share/skQ7MNNlsFnlNxYW5xOehkbBbxso_zlrF1hHnlpGYucJyS8eW2POo71Fupw_bgHo.I77k31lDQz16zLJ_

Slides including "Option 7" that was introduced at the June 30th HCAWG meeting.

Minutes from 6/30/2023 meeting.

2023 06 23 Update

About 70 people tuned in to the virtual Public Forum on June 20th. The recording of the forum is here. The Housing Choice Act Working Group will be meeting VIRTUALLY on Friday, June 30th at 9:30am. Click here for the agenda and here for the Zoom link.

2023 06 16 Update

A Lego board depicting the area and buildings around the MBTA station.Today's Housing Choice Public Forum was attended by approximately 40 people. There was a presentation by the Town's consultant, Utile, and then attendees broke into groups to discuss options for compliance, ask questions, and provide feedback. To see the slide deck, please click here.

The next forum will be Tuesday June 20th at 7:00pm via zoom.  Register at https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0rc-Cgpz8iH9ybJDskmn_IOcDP07pZuF9s.

To see the comments and questions posted on sticky notes during the forum, go to Housing Choice Act Forum Padlet

Town residents attending the forum.

Donaldson Room set up.

2023 06 07 Update

Postcard advertising June 16th and June 20th public forum.

The June 6, 2023 Multi-board meeting was well attended with over 60 representatives from Lincoln's array of Boards and Committees as well as members of the public. The meeting focused on two big ideas.  The first being how the Town can comply with the HCA and the second being a proposal to create a Village Center Mall District that would allow the RLF to pursue a mixed-use redevelopment of the Mall. The Working Group with technical assistance from its consultant, Utile Design, presented a detailed explanation of the Housing Choice Act requirements and four possible pathways for the Town to achieve compliance. In addition, the RLF presented their vision for a mixed-use redevelopment of the Mall. To view the slide deck, please click here. The recording of the meeting is here: 

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2023 05 11 Update

Upcoming Public Forums: The Housing Choice Act Working Group is hosting three public forums in June to share possible ways to comply with Housing Choice Act zoning requirements for MBTA communities. ALL residents are welcome! Learn about the proposals, ask questions, and help shape Lincoln's path forward.

2023 03 16 Update

Lincoln is subject to M.G.L., Chapter 40A, Section 3A (a.k.a. Housing Choice Act, Housing Choice Initiative, or MBTA Communities Act) because we have an MBTA commuter rail station. The HCAWG, comprised of representatives of multiple town boards and departments, has been meeting since the fall of 2022 to understand the implications of the Act for Lincoln.  At its March 16th meeting, HCAWG met with Utile Design to review how the state calculates “developable land” and to walk through an initial analysis of current zoning in Lincoln to begin identifying areas that might be logical places for rezoning.  As a starting point, and in compliance with the law, Utile presented high-level information about current housing density within 0.5 miles of the MBTA station. Additionally, based on ideas submitted by HCAWG members, Utile provided an initial analysis of current housing density 0.5 mile from the MBTA bus stop on Hanscom Drive and in other areas of town where there is currently multi-family housing. 

It is important to remember that the Housing Choice Act’s goal is to create transit-oriented zoning areas where multi-family housing is allowed “by right.” 

Also at the meeting, the group discussed the clarifying guidance issued by the Attorney General on March 15th.  Her statement makes it clear that the law makes compliance mandatory, and that towns may be subject to litigation:

“All MBTA Communities must comply with the Law. Communities that do not currently have a compliant multi-family zoning district must take steps outlined in the DHCD guidelines to demonstrate interim compliance. Communities that fail to comply with the Law may be subject to civil enforcement action. Non-compliant MBTA Communities are also subject to the administrative consequence of being rendered ineligible to receive certain forms of state funding.Importantly, MBTA Communities cannot avoid their obligations under the Law by foregoing this funding. The Law requires that MBTA Communities “shall have” a compliant zoning district and does not provide any mechanism by which a town or city may opt out of this requirement.”

Next Steps:  

April 2023: HCAWG members will submit ideas and questions to Utile to further refine ideas about zoning areas’ boundaries and locations. The group will continue to consider different ways to create proposals regarding possible locations, sizes, and density of new zoning districts, and the zoning amendments that the town needs to approve to comply with the Housing Choice Act.  Later this spring, the HCAWG will hold a public forum to present work to date and to gather questions and ideas from the community. We look forward to a robust conversation with residents!

Spring – Fall 2023: Community engagement.

March 2024:  Town Meeting vote on proposed zoning bylaw(s)

2023 02 07 Update

At its February 7th HCAWG meeting, Paula Vaughn-MacKenzie, Director of Planning and Land Use, announced that Lincoln has been granted “interim compliance” with the Housing Choice Act (HCA).  The Town is in compliance because our Action Plan and timetable, which were submitted to the Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD) in December, were approved on January 27, 2023. Interim compliance remains in effect until December 31, 2024, by which time compliance will require a Town Meeting approved zoning bylaw that meets the requirements of the HCA. 

The goal of the Housing Choice Act (M. G. L. c 40 A, Section 3A) is for MBTA communities like Lincoln to approve zoning bylaws that help meet the State’s high demand for housing in a manner that promotes the use of public transit.  As of February 8, 2023, almost all the 175 MBTA communities have submitted action plans.  Want to read them?  Visit https://www.mass.gov/doc/submitted-section-3a-action-plans/download.

Next Steps

To help us develop zoning proposals that will meet the HCA requirements, Lincoln received a $20,000 grant from Mass Housing Partnership. This grant will cover the costs of a consultant to work with the Housing Choice Act Working Group to create a map of possible locations in Lincoln that could serve as viable options for rezoning that is consistent with the requirements of the Act.  

During the next year and a half, the Working Group will consider different ways to create a zoning bylaw that complies with the Act, present options to the community, and partner with residents to shape and refine a final proposal.  Ultimately, it will be up to Lincoln voters at the March 2024 Town Meeting to decide whether to adopt a Housing Choice Act zoning bylaw.

2023 01 03 Update

The Housing Choice Act Working Group (HCAWG) is a group of residents representing a range of boards and committees who, along with members of our town professional team, were brought together by the Select Board to study the state’s 2021 Housing Choice Act. Our mission is to understand the Act’s implications for Lincoln, draft pathways to compliance, and engage with residents. Our work together began this past fall and will likely continue through the end of 2024.  The goal of the Housing Choice Act is for towns and cities to approve zoning bylaws that help the state meet the high demand for housing. During the next year and a half, the HCAWG will develop different ways to create a zoning bylaw that complies with the Act, present options to the community, and partner with residents to shape and refine a final proposal. Ultimately, it will be up to Lincoln voters at the March 2024 Town Meeting to decide whether to adopt a Housing Choice Act zoning bylaw.

To help engage with the community, the Working Group formed a communications team.  Information will be sent out on a regular basis via LincolnTalk and posted on the this webpage. This set of FAQs is the first of many updates we will be providing to residents.

We look forward to the coming conversations!

-       The communications team (Kathy Shepard, Gary Taylor, and Jennifer Glass)

FAQs - updated September 17, 2023

Does the Town rely on state grants and what are the consequences of losing access to selected state grants?

One of the questions that has come up in conversations about the Housing Choice Act  is whether it would be detrimental to lose access to selected state grants.  Below is a chart that shows grant funding that the Planning Department has secured since 2021. (For those who can’t see the image, go to https://www.lincolntown.org/1327/Housing-Choice-Act-Working-Group). In total, Lincoln has received $1.5M, with another $820,000 for which we have applied and are awaiting a decision.

Grants have been or are currently being used to:

  • Draft Lincoln’s Climate Action Plan (learn more at State of the Town on September 30th at the Lincoln School!)
  • Update the Town’s Municipal Vulnerability Plan, with $50,000 set aside for a resiliency project
  • Design an upgrade to the waste treatment plant that serves The Mall and Lincoln Woods (and any future development on those properties or the Town-owned MBTA commuter parking lot at the back of The Mall parking lot.)
  • Build the accessible roadside path that now extends from the Town commuter parking lot (next to Doherty’s) to the Police Station and over to a new crosswalk to Codman Farm.

In addition to seeking funds to upgrade the water water treatment plant, there are other big infrastructure    needs in town such as water main replacement. For example, the 2.7 mile long stretch of water main that runs from the 5 corners to The Mall is in need of replacement, which is estimated to cost $7M - $8M. And, we know there will be more water infrastructure needs over time. Without outside funding, the cost of bonding these projects would be shouldered by residents who are on the Town water supply.

Governor Healey recently released her Capital Improvement Plan which adds funds to a number of grant programs.  The plan’s investments over five years include:

  • $1.2 billion in economic development funding, with $163 million for local communities, including grant opportunities through the Community One Stop for Growth application portal
  • More than $125 million for municipal climate-focused grants, including almost $24 million in fiscal 2024 for the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness planning and action grant programs
  • More than $270 million per year for local transportation programs, including $200 million for the Chapter 90 local road and bridge program
  • $134 million for library construction grants for the renovation and expansion of municipal libraries
  • $50 million in Cultural Facilities Fund grants
  • $74 million in local support for technology investments through capital programs
  • The use of $736,000 to unlock $4.1 million in federal funds for ambient air monitoring, as well as support for community-based resilience programs and for parks, trails and open space
  • $10 million for the launch of the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security’s Digital Roadmap, which will improve access to Commonwealth digital services
  • Download the capital investment plan (1.2M PDF)

What are the potential impacts on Town finances?

In 2020, the South Lincoln Planning & Implementation Committee (SLPIC) commissioned the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) to do a study on the financial impact of increased housing in the Lincoln Station area.  Based on a buildout of 240 net new units in the Village Center area, MAPC conducted a buildout and fiscal impact analyses.  Although some of the parcels identified in the study may be different than the final Housing Choice Act parcels, the information remains relevant.  The study used a variety of housing units including studio, one, two and three bedroom units.  The analysis estimated the anticipated revenues generated by new development against the costs attributable to the increased demand for public services and forecasted the net cash flow and concluded that whether a project was mixed-use or purely residential, the fiscal impact to the Town including additional school costs, tax revenue, and other required services, would most likely be positive.  To view the study, please click here.

A similar fiscal impact study conducted before the development of Oriole Landing predicted a positive impact on town finances of approximately $100,000, which has proven to be true.

What are the potential traffic impacts? 

Another question that has been raised is the impact of the traffic that may be generated by the creation of more housing.  As part of the SLPIC planning process, a traffic analysis was conducted by an outside consultant based on the same proposed 240 net new housing units.  The study compared a no-build scenario and two levels of buildout.  The study concluded that the increase in traffic expected from the maximum buildout (240 units additional residential units) within the Lincoln Station area would not significantly alter traffic operations compared to the No-Build conditions. The study suggested that the Codman Road/Lincoln Road intersection be monitored for increased traffic and accidents which may necessitate a signal at this intersection.  To view the traffic study, please click here.

What is the potential impact on the Lincoln School population?

Former Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent, Becky McFall, addressed the question of whether additional students from new housing would negatively impact the schools.  She noted  that enrollment in the Lincoln School K-8 was in the low 700’s in the years 2001 through 2004.  Since then, there has been a gradual decline in enrollment resulting in the 2021 enrollment of 524 students as of October 1, 2021.  She welcomed the opportunity for more school age children to attend the Lincoln Schools.  To read her memorandum, please click here. The School Committee also issued a statement regarding the school population in their Fall 2022 newsletter. To read the letter, click here.

Lincoln’s real world experience with concerns about increased costs, fiscal impact, traffic, and school children shows that the projections of the reports and studies above are likely accurate.  As previously noted, Oriole Landing, completed in 2020, is a 60 unit rental property with 25% of the units being affordable to households earning 80% of Area Median Income (AMI).  The analyses required by the Planning Board forecasted a net positive fiscal impact on the Town as it relates to municipal costs and an estimated 7 new school age children. Both of these projections proved accurate.  To review Civico’s Financial Pro-Forma and Fiscal Impact Analysis for Oriole Landing, please click here.

Will the Town have any control over projects developed in the Housing Choice district?


Planning Board:  Any development that is allowed under the Housing Choice Overlay District will require Site Plan approval.  As part of the Site Plan Approval process, the Planning Board will review how an individual project complies with the zoning requirements, including design guidelines, parking, traffic, circulation, lighting, screening, and stormwater control.

Historical Commission:  Any proposed project that includes partial or total demolition of an existing building must comply with the Demolition Bylaw that is administered by the Historical Commission. Any proposed changes to the exterior of a building or structure that is in the Historic District must apply to the Historic District Commission for approval.

Conservation Commission:  All projects must comply with Lincoln’s wetlands protection bylaws.

Sustainable Construction:  All projects must comply with the Specialized Stretch building code adopted by residents at the March 2023 Annual Town Meeting: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/stretch-energy-code-development-2022. In addition, Lincoln has applied to be one of the 10 towns piloting a “no new fossil fuel hook-ups” policy for new construction and gut renovations. Once Lincoln’s application to the state is approved, proposed projects will need to comply.

What about wastewater treatment capacity?

The HCA does not require towns to have wastewater treatment facilities in place within the zoned areas. It is the responsibility of the developer to provide the necessary infrastructure.

Currently, the Town is working with The Community Builders and the Rural Land Foundation (RLF) to design an updated and expanded wastewater treatment plant at Lincoln Woods.  The Lincoln Woods plant services the Mall (which is owned by the RLF). An expanded facility would also service the redevelopment project being put forward by the RLF.  The Town received a $400,000.00 grant from the State to pay for the engineering and design work going on now.  The design will be completed by June 30, 2024.  To enable the construction of the updated wastewater treatment plant, the Town would work with The Community Builders to submit a MassWorks grant application to help fund the upgrade.  To review the studies that have been completed regarding the WWTP, please click here.

MassWorks grants are the only available large money grants that help cities and towns with the costs of building infrastructure.  To learn more about MassWorks grants, typical projects and awards, please click here.  

Do we have enough drinking water capacity?

Yes. The Water Department issued a memo in August 2023 that outlines current and potential usage and capacity. Click here to read the memo. 

Will additional housing jeopardize the Town’s Subsidized Housing Inventory (SHI)? 

No. The Towns current SHI based on the 2020 Federal Census is 12.83%.

The Town is currently doing a feasibility study to determine whether the 3A HCA District can support a 15% affordable housing requirement. If the study determines that it can, the zoning will require any project to include15% affordable residential units at 80% Area Median Income (AMI). If the study determines that a 15% requirement is too high and will make a multi-family project economically infeasible, the 3A regulations allow a 10% affordability requirement. In either case, the Towns SHI will not be in jeopardy.

To see the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities Chapter 40B Subsidized Housing Inventory (SHI) as of June 29, 2023, please click on this link:  https://www.lincolntown.org/DocumentCenter/View/79217/LIncoln-SHI-as-of-July-2023--FINAL

What is the “Housing Choice Initiative/Act,” “MBTA Communities Act,” or “section 3A”?

In 2021, to address the scarcity and high cost of housing in Massachusetts, the state created a new section of the State Zoning Act (G.L. c 40A, § 3A) to support the goal of producing 200,000 homes needed to meet the Commonwealth’s housing demand. Part of the act requires the 175 communities served by the MBTA and Commuter Rail (“MBTA Communities”) to zone for at least one district where multifamily housing is permitted “as of right.” Failure to comply makes the town ineligible for a variety of housing, infrastructure, and development grants, and exposes the town to litigation. 

On March 15, 2023, the Attorney General issued clarifying guidance regarding compliance1:

“All MBTA Communities must comply with the Law. Communities that do not currently have a compliant multi-family zoning district must take steps outlined in the DHCD guidelines to demonstrate interim compliance. Communities that fail to comply with the Law may be subject to civil enforcement action. Non-compliant MBTA Communities are also subject to the administrative consequence of being rendered ineligible to receive certain forms of state funding.Importantly, MBTA Communities cannot avoid their obligations under the Law by foregoing this funding. The Law requires that MBTA Communities “shall have” a compliant zoning district and does not provide any mechanism by which a town or city may opt out of this requirement.”

What does this mean for Lincoln? 

Lincoln is designated as a commuter rail community, and the rules state that to comply with the law, we must have zoning bylaws that meet the following requirements:

  • At least one zoning district must permit “multifamily housing” uses “as of right.” (“As of right” means that provided site plan requirements are met, the use is allowed. Boards can shape the project but cannot deny permission. Every zoning district must have at least one “by right” use.)
  • The multifamily district(s) must be of a “reasonable size” and must allow a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre. In Lincoln, we need to create a zone or zones that add up to at least 42 acres.
  • The multifamily housing must have no age restrictions and must be suitable for families with children. In Lincoln, at least 20% of the 42 acres must be located within ½ mile of the commuter rail station. 

How is Lincoln meeting the requirements needed to comply? 

  • To comply with the specific statutory requirements of the new legislation, Lincoln has established a Housing Choice Act Working Group (HCAWG) by vote of the Select Board. Its members are:  
    • Michelle Barnes, Lincoln Land Conservation Trust
    • Abigail Butt, Director, Council on Aging & Human Services
    • Bill Churchill, Zoning Board of Appeals
    • Rachel Drew, Housing Commission
    • Bob Domnitz, Planning Board (until end of March 2023)
    • Steve Gladstone, Water Commission (beginning April 2023)
    • Andrew Glass, Historical Commission
    • Jennifer Glass, Select Board
    • Tim Higgins, Town Administrator
    • Darin LaFalam, Superintendent, Water Department
    • John MacLachlan, School Committee
    • Geoff McGean, Rural Land Foundation
    • Craig Nicholson, Planning Board (beginning May 2023)
    • Terry Perlmutter, Council on Aging & Human Services Board
    • Kathleen Shepard, Conservation Commission
    • Gary Taylor, Planning Board
    • Paula Vaughn MacKenzie, Director, Planning and Land Use.  
  • The HCAWG is meeting monthly and will develop zoning proposals regarding possible locations, sizes, and density of new zoning districts, and the zoning amendments that would need to be made.
  • The HCAWG is committed to robust and frequent engagement with the community and will use a variety of outreach methods to communicate with residents.

What is the timeline for creating a bylaw to establish a new zoning district?

  • January 2023:  Deadline for submitting an Action Plan and Action Plan Timeline to the Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD).  Lincoln submitted the Action Plan in December 2022. 
  • February 2023 – March 2024: 
    • HCAWG and Planning Board develop zoning proposal(s)
    • Public engagement
    • Planning Board and multi-board hearings
  • March 2024:  Vote on Zoning proposal at Annual Town Meeting. The decision to adopt a bylaw rests with voters! The new zoning requires a simple majority of those present at Town Meeting.
  • December 2024: Submit Town Meeting-approved zoning bylaw to DHCD for final compliance.

To assist with developing the zoning district(s), Lincoln has been awarded a $20,000 grant from the Mass Housing Partnership for a 3 - 4 month project to be completed no later than June 30, 2023. The money will be used for technical assistance to do the modeling of the various proposed district areas that will be brought to the community for consideration.

Why comply?

  • Community Goals:  Residents have repeatedly expressed support for ensuring a range of housing options in Lincoln. The Housing Choice Act can be a tool to shape future housing development around mass transit in ways that balance housing with other stated community values such as environmental and land stewardship, and support for our local businesses.
  • Fiscal Responsibility:  Compliance ensures that the town remains eligible for multiple state funding opportunities such as the MassWorks program and the Housing Choice Grant program. For example, MassWorks offers grants of up to several million dollars for projects focused on: drinking water and wastewater; bicycle, pedestrian, and roadway infrastructure; and housing and economic development. (Visit https://www.mass.gov/guides/community-one-stop-for-growth, https://www.mass.gov/orgs/massworks, and https://www.mass.gov/how-to/housing-choice-grant-program for more information.) 

What’s Next?


Overview of Section 3A of the Zoning Act

Section 18 of chapter 358 of the Acts of 2020 added a new section 3A to chapter 40A of the General Laws applicable to MBTA communities and provides:

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 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.

The Department of Housing and Community Development, in consultation with the MBTA, is required to promulgate guidelines to determine if an MBTA community is in compliance with Section 3A.  DHCD promulgated preliminary guidance on January 29, 2021 and updated the guidance on December 15, 2021.  

DHCD Preliminary Guidance on MBTA Communities.  Click here.  For the updated Guidance click here.

On January 31, 2022, at a joint Select Board/Planning Board/SLPAC meeting, there was a briefing of the Housing Choice Legislation applicable to MBTA communities and the DHCD updated Guidelines.  For the power point deck used at the meeting, please click here.