Massachusetts' housing production level ranks among the lowest in the nation, and what's built is among the most expensive. Too few homes is “the biggest single culprit” in the state's lack of affordable housing, according to Clark Ziegler, executive director of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, a nonprofit organization working to increase affordable housing.

But he calls the state's Housing Appeals Committee, created in 1969 as part of the state's Chapter 40B affordable housing zoning law, “a huge part of the solution.” The committee's ability to facilitate affordable housing will be magnified if recent changes help speed up the state's housing production.

Under 40B, developers can apply to local zoning boards to streamline the permitting process and bypass zoning laws that limit or prohibit multifamily construction if 25 percent of a project's units are reserved for families earning less than 80 percent of the area's median income. Developers can appeal zoning board decisions to the Housing Appeals Committee.

But almost 7,000 housing units are held up in the committee's backlog of cases. Two years ago, a task force recommended changing staffing and procedures to speed up the hearing process and encouraging more cases to be settled locally.

Developer fees are helping to pay for an additional officer to hear cases and for funds to help local zoning boards navigate 40B permit applications. “That's made a huge difference in keeping appeals from happening,” Ziegler says, adding, “the process is getting better.” Werner Lohe, the committee's chairman, agrees, pointing out that the state's production level has picked up over the last two years. “We do not need more resources right now,” he says.

To find out more about the Housing Appeals Committee, click here.