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A measure legalizing accessory dwelling units in many single-family homes statewide has made it over a significant hurdle in the state Senate, potentially setting a new housing advocacy group up for one of its first major statewide wins.

The measure was included as an amendment to the Senate version of the state’s annual – and politically popular – economic development bonding bill. Bills like these and the annual state budget often attract policy measures in addition to small local spending items before they’re sent to conference committee because of their “must-pass” nature.

The ADU amendment, sponsored by Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, would make it illegal for any town or city to prohibit a rental accessory dwelling unit of between 450 and 900 square feet in any single-family zoning district on lots at least 5,000 square feet in size. The measure allows for “reasonable regulations” concerning dimensional setbacks, bulk and height of any ADUs, but caps parking requirements at a single off-street space.

“Through this one smart-growth zoning change, we are giving families more options to maximize the potential of their property and meet different housing needs,” Crighton said in a statement. “They can build a home close by for a loved one in need of care, create a place for a caregiver to stay, earn an extra income by renting to a tenant, or merely increase the value of their home through the addition of an accessory dwelling unit.”

The push to legalize ADUs was one of housing advocacy group Abundant Housing MA’s first major statewide drives after helping affordable housing advocates push for aggressive regulations to implement the MBTA Communities transit-oriented zoning reform passed in early 2021. The group named its first executive director, Jesse Kanson-Benanav, in April 2021.

Accessory dwelling units are widely seen as a useful element of a larger set of zoning reforms that could reverse Massachusetts’ decades of under-production. An effort by the Cape Cod Association of Realtors, the nonprofit Housing Assistance Corp. and other business and community groups to legalize ADUs across Cape Cod took the better part of the last decade, only culminating in the last two years. Since then, however, some homebuilders have begun to specialize in renovating houses to carve ADUs out of homes or garages. One, CapeBuilt Homes, has even begun to offer standalone ADUs in its catalogue of housing designs.

Crighton billed ADUs as an important source of lower-priced housing, as well.

“This change will create new rental opportunities in single-family neighborhoods, where affordable options are hard to come by. These are flexible, desirable housing options for those that need them most,” he said.

The median sale price for singlefamily homes reached $610,000 and the median sale price for condominiums hit $539,000 in June, according to The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman. It marks the first time the single-family price has breached $600,000 and the third consecutive month that the median condo price has been above $500,000.

The economic development bill now heads to a conference committee, where negotiators appointed by House and Senate leadership will hash out a compromise version of the bill that will return to both bodies before this legislative session ends July 31.

Advocacy Org Scores Win with ADU Legalization Measure

by James Sanna time to read: 2 min