• Statement on Housing Choice bill

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    February 27, 2019
     
     
     
    Statement on Housing Choice bill
     
     
     
    The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance supports Governor Baker’s Housing Choice bill.

    We can’t confront our housing and climate crises without local zoning changes, so we hope to see the Legislature fast-track Housing Choice in 2019. We appreciate the Governor’s support for including in his bill a key reform drafted by the Joint Committee on Housing that will encourage developers to include more of the affordable homes that our state desperately needs.

    Of course, passing Housing Choice is not the end of efforts to make Massachusetts more affordable and livable for all of its residents. It’s just the beginning.

    Our cities and towns are struggling with a range of housing challenges. Ongoing dialogue among key stakeholders could lead to further progress on expanding affordability and multifamily housing near public transportation, reducing construction and legal costs, improving local planning and rezoning, curbing sprawl, and accelerating the production of accessory apartments.

    These are too many issues to address in a single bill, which is why the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance has not filed comprehensive legislation this year. Instead, we believe that the Legislature and Administration should advance Housing Choice immediately and other initiatives opportunistically over the next 18 months.

    One way of navigating this complex landscape has been suggested by Sen. Harriette Chandler. Rather than bog down Housing Choice until the end of the two-year session, she recommends establishing a joint House and Senate task force that could more fully address the housing issues raised by legislators, with the goal of making some additional recommendations for action. This could give legislators and advocates the opportunity to dialogue and build support for creative solutions.

    The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance is committed to housing equity and acknowledges that additional action will be needed on the following issues:

    1. New revenues for affordable housing. Ideas include a transfer fee on real estate transactions, an increased state match for Community Preservation Act, an income tax surcharge, or appropriating a larger annual chunk of the Housing Bond bill authorization passed last year. There needs to be discussion about how to preserve and increase affordable housing during this critical window of time.

    2. Fighting neighborhood displacement and regional segregation. We will support efforts led by low-income residents and communities of color to reduce displacement. The right to counsel in eviction proceedings would be a good place to start, since research has consistently shown that this investment leads to more positive outcomes and prevents homelessness. In addition, we strongly support actions to eliminate discrimination in housing, zoning and permitting decisions.

    3. Transit justice and neighborhood stabilization. While some communities suffer from overheated markets, other parts of the state continue to deal with vacancy and deterioration. Many of the low-income people displaced from the Boston area have been forced to relocate to smaller cities with less expensive housing, but which have poor public transportation connecting them to jobs and services. We need to make sure that transit service is convenient and affordable. The state should also pursue targeted reforms and investments to strengthen our older neighborhoods to ensure that they can thrive as mixed-income communities with a good quality of life.

    We look forward to working with all parties to finally make progress on our deep housing crisis.

    André Leroux
    Executive Director
    Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance
     
     
     
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    Founded in 2003, the Alliance is a coalition of nine Massachusetts organizations which share the powerful mission of advocating for a Commonwealth that is better planned, more prosperous, more equitable, and more prepared for a climate-friendly future. Leaders from these organizations serve on the Alliance’s steering committee:
     
     
     
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