New zoning reform technical assistance program in Massachusetts

Smart Growth America is launching a new technical assistance (TA) program to support equitable development and housing attainability in Massachusetts thanks to generous funding from The Barr Foundation.  The program is designed to provide community-based organizations with the skills and tools to advance sustainable, equitable development and affordable housing, and to support generational wealth creation for Black and Brown communities and LGTBQIA+ populations through zoning reform.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recently took the bold step of mandating an increased capacity for multi-family housing in transit-connected communities across the commonwealth (Section 3A of MGL c. 40A) which has elevated zoning reform and its potential benefits to a household conversation in the Commonwealth. SGA’s technical assistance program seeks to advance this conversation and develop recommendations, strategies, and methods to continue expanding zoning reform in the state.

After a competitive outreach campaign seeking technical assistance partners, two Massachusetts organizations—Westside Legends in Pittsfield and CultureHouse in Somerville—were selected out of 35 mission-aligned organizations that wanted to become more educated about and engaged in the processes that shape the built environment of their communities.

SGA will equip each community with the tools needed to tackle long-standing zoning roadblocks that prevent traditionally marginalized communities from accessing affordable housing (especially affordable housing near transit), building wealth, and benefiting from localized economic growth in their cities. At the end of the program, each organization will be provided with recommendations tailored to their communities, with all recommendations compiled into a centralized resource that can be used by other cities and organizations facing similar challenges across the country.

Technical assistance will be provided across three projects: convening the Westside Working Group, working directly with Westside Legends to develop and deploy strategies to advance affordable housing in Pittsfield, MA, and working with CultureHouse to strengthen smart growth approaches in Somerville, MA.

An Equitable Development Strategy for Newport, Rhode Island

Overlooked by decision-makers, North End residents came together to ensure that their voices were included in any changes coming to their community—securing more equitable outcomes in the process. Spurred to action, North End community leaders formed the Local Advocacy Group (or LAG), in partnership with the Newport Health Equity Zone and with guidance from Smart Growth America, to build an equitable development strategy for the North End. The lessons learned from working with the LAG will serve as guides for providing technical assistance in Massachusetts. Read the North End Equitable Development Strategy here.

Westside Working Group, Pittsfield, MA

As the largest city in Massachusetts’ westernmost county of Berkshire, Pittsfield serves as a cultural and commercial hub for one of the more tourism-focused regions in the northeastern United States. However, the generally more affluent tourist population that visits the Berkshires every year contrasts with the historically marginalized Pittsfield resident communities that have struggled for generations to attain affordable housing in their neighborhoods.

Working with host organization Westside Legends, SGA is convening a working group that will explore how Pittsfield land-use decisions and zoning policies have stymied housing attainability, economic development, and wealth generation for the city’s minority communities. Civic leaders, executives, and nonprofit leaders will virtually convene over the course of the program to discuss how the current zoning ordinance serves as a barrier to housing attainability and affordability, economic development, small business development, and generational wealth building for minorities in Pittsfield. The collaborative effort will produce a collection of strategies and recommendations that the Westside Working Group will use to guide their efforts in advocating for equitable zoning reform in Pittsfield.

Westside Legends is a community organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the historically marginalized residents of the West Side section of Pittsfield. As a fully volunteer-run organization, Westside Legends is supported by Greylock Federal Credit Union, a regional financial institution. Westside Legends offers a number of opportunities for both aspiring and current homeowners in their community, including Homeownership Preparation classes and a property Buy Back Program.


Additionally, SGA will work with Westside Legends to explore strategies for redeveloping the large number of vacant or abandoned lots on their side of the city into affordable housing. As a final deliverable, SGA will provide Westside Legends with a strategy guide that will include best practices to advance affordable housing on the West Side of Pittsfield, including navigating local land use policies, preparing grant applications, reviewing tax lien dispositions, and advocating for zoning reform.

Somerville, MA

The city of Somerville exists just outside of Boston, MA, one of the nation’s largest economic hubs, and has experienced significant economic and cultural changes in recent years.

CultureHouse partners with other Somerville neighborhood organizations to revitalize and beautify underutilized and vacant public spaces across the city. As CultureHouse continues to grow its portfolio of projects and partnerships, its leaders want to further integrate smart growth principles into their internal and external programmatic processes.


SGA will collaborate with CultureHouse to 1) create a workshop and training program for CultureHouse team members that outlines smart growth principles and illustrates how they can impact and guide the organization’s programming and projects, 2) provide CultureHouse staff with capacity to understand and convert feedback from community popups into actionable smart growth policies and programs, 3) develop a series of informational materials, which CultureHouse can use to further engage community members on complex topics such as zoning reform, the public-private space divide, and more.

What’s next?

The TA Cohort will come together in Pittsfield in late October for an in-person convening, where they’ll exchange lessons and deepen their understanding of some of the affordable housing projects currently underway in Pittsfield.

SGA is thrilled to be supporting these organizations in their continued efforts to advance sustainable and equitable development. Over the next several months, SGA and their partners look forward to sharing updates on their progress.

Land Use and Development Technical assistance Zoning