Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is continuing to campaign for a housing bill. He is hoping to get it across the finish line in this legislative session.
Baker and members of his administration have held more than a dozen events in municipalities across the state to promote his “Housing Choice” legislation, which the Republican governor said is key to his goal to build 135,000 new residential units by 2025 and chip away at a shortage that has driven the cost of housing to record levels.
"Continuing to do nothing, which is what we've been doing for the better part of 30 years, is not going to get us where we need to go," said Baker.
The most recent effort to spotlight the legislation was in Springfield City Hall last Friday afternoon where Baker appeared with Mayor Domenic Sarno, several Democratic state legislators, housing developers, and the president of a local community college.
" I very much appreciate the support of the folks here today," said Baker. "I believe this is something we need to get done in this legislative session."
Baker’s bill would end the decades-old requirement in Massachusetts law that a two-thirds vote is needed at the local level to approve a zoning change – a hurdle that too often blocks the construction of multi-family lower-cost housing.
"If you are a five-member selectboard, which is what almost all our towns are, you have to get to a 4-1 (vote), practically a unanimous vote," said Baker who added "So, this is not just an eastern Mass issue. This issue comes up everywhere."
The bill has been endorsed by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, homebuilders, advocates for affordable housing, and some environmental organizations. But three years after Baker first introduced the legislation it has not advanced very far in the state legislature.
"There are many people who have said to us that we have a 'Goldilocks' problem, you know, it is not enough for some and its too much for others," Baker told reporters.
Sarno said he endorsed the bill because Springfield has done its “fair share” in providing housing for low-income families and now is the time for other communities to step up.
He said the bill "strikes a delicate balance that still allows municipalities to dictate what they need and also address the housing crisis we are in."
At the City Hall event, State Senator James Welch and State Representatives Michael Finn, Bud Williams, and Carlos Gonzalez all spoke in favor of the bill, with Gonzalez calling it “a bold initiative to address fairness in housing.”
John Cook, the president of Springfield Technical Community College, said the cost of housing adds to the debt students roll up as they pursue higher education.
"In the fiscal year 2019 alone just STCC students residing in Springfield borrowed over $1 million in federal loans --just that one year -- with those cost of living dollars often going to housing," said Cook.
The median price for a single-family home in Massachusetts recently climbed to $405,000 – the highest in the country. The median rent is more than $1,500 a month.
Advocates for affordable housing plan to lobby at the State House on March 11 for Baker’s bill.