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State News: Governor Charlie Baker Renews Push for Housing Production Bill

2.27.19

Governor Charlie Baker has doubled down on legislation to make it easier for cities and towns to relax zoning restrictions to facilitate the construction of new housing, casting the problem of affordability and availability of housing as one central to the state's ability to address other vexing problems like transportation options and talent recruitment for jobs.

Baker, who proposed similar legislation last session but failed to secure a vote in either branch of the Legislature, said the housing problem has only gotten worse since he first proposed the concept in 2017.

The lack of inventory, Baker said, has made it harder for young people to buy a home and for workers to live close to their jobs, forcing more cars on the roads and longer commutes.

"We're making a big mistake with respect to the future that we all want if we don't step up and fix this," Baker said.

The bill the governor planned to file closely mirrors legislation he filed in late 2017, but which never came up for a vote in the House or Senate despite a broad coalition of support. Some legislators and housing advocates at the time said they wanted to see a zoning reform bill go further, and include tenant protections and elements geared toward affordability, among other things.

"I would have preferred to have that pass, what the governor had done last year," House Speaker Robert DeLeo told the News Service on Wednesday. "I think that bill at least moved the ball forward in terms of resolving at least part of the issue in terms of housing."

Asked why he didn't call a vote, the speaker said, "We were working with various groups at the time. We thought we could get to a finalization and when we got to a finalization unfortunately we were in informal sessions at that point so it was what it was."

Baker put the issue back on the table for the new two-year session Wednesday with an event on the Grand Staircasesurrounded by nearly 50 municipal leaders and advocates for employer groups, realtors and homebuilders...

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said that in her city she has been working for eight months on a plan to redevelop vacant historic buildings that used to be Catholic Church owned schools. It failed on a 7-4 vote Tuesday night.

"It underscores even the easy stuff isn't easy," Driscoll said.

Driscoll also addressed the critics that characterized Baker's bill last session as just a baby step forward. "It's a triple all day long," she said, using a baseball analogy.

More on this from WGBH and the Boston Business Journal.

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