Hearing Scheduled On Housing Bills | WAMC

Hearing Scheduled On Housing Bills

May 8, 2019

Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC

The Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on Housing has scheduled a much-anticipated hearing for Tuesday, May 14 on bills to address a shortage of affordable housing in the state.

There is no disputing the fact that Massachusetts is not building nearly enough housing to keep pace with demand.  As a result, the state has some of the highest costs for housing in the country.

The median sale price for a single family house in Massachusetts in March was $377,000 – a record high

New home construction in Massachusetts fell off the cliff during the Great Recession and has never recovered.

    Everyone agrees there is a problem, but a consensus on a solution remains elusive. 

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has filed legislation called “An Act to Promote Housing Choices.”  He said it will help the state make up ground by building 135,000 new housing units by 2025.

"And if we truly want to meet the needs of young people, families, seniors, affordable housing, workforce housing and all the rest, we have got to create an environment and a process that makes it possible for people to produce more housing," said Baker adding "It is kinda that simple."

Baker and members of his administration have been traveling the state since the first of the year to make the case that something has to be done to address the housing supply and demand imbalance.

Mike Kennealy, the governor’s chief economic official, highlighted it during a speech in March to 500 business and community leaders at a Springfield Regional Chamber luncheon.

"We have one significant threat to our economic growth and development and that threat is houisng. We simply need more housing production across the state," declared Kennealy.

Lt. Gov. Karen Polito promoted the bill at recent events in Easthampton, Hadley and Williamstown.

Democratic State Rep. Jose Tosado of Springfield, who sits on the Housing Committee, said affordable housing is not just a Boston-area problem.

" Here in Springfield as well there is a lack of affordable house and long waits for people to get in," said Tosado.

The bill promoted by Baker would allow municipalities to make zoning changes by a simple majority vote, rather than the two-thirds threshold that has long been required in state law.  Housing advocates say the change would help to overcome NIMBY objections to constructing apartment buildings and condominiums – the kind of denser housing that is typically more affordable.

Some Democrats, however, believe Baker’s plan is too modest.  They say what is needed is more protection for tenants, and even a return to rent control, which was outlawed by Massachusetts voters in 1994.

Baker has made it clear he opposes rent controls.

" The problem with things like rent control is that it ultimately gets paid for by other renters," Baker said. "Driving up the price of what it costs one person to live somewhere so you can reduce the price of what it costs somebody else is not a strategy for success."

A report earlier this year from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston said the state has almost 275,000 “extremely low-income households” and just 133,500 apartments available that they can afford to rent.