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State News: Compared to Other States, Massachusetts Lags in Move for More Housing

3.18.19

From The Boston Globe

"In Massachusetts, where such housing production plans remain optional, Baker’s focus is on making it a little easier for those that want to build to do so. His bill, he said, would encourage zoning changes for denser development by lowering the approval threshold for city councils and town meetings from the current two-thirds majority to a simple majority: 50 percent plus one.

Baker administration officials say they’re not sure how many units the change could create. But some local officials say that little tweak could make a huge difference.

“Some people seem to think this is a single,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem. “It’s a triple. All day.”

Driscoll has been trying since last summer to push through her City Council new zoning that would help convert two shuttered Catholic schools and a former senior center into dozens of apartments, many of them classified as affordable. Seven of the 11 City Council members support the measure, but it needs eight votes to secure a two-thirds majority. That eighth vote has been elusive; another attempt at passage recently failed by a 7-4 vote.

“We’ve been at this for eight months now. It’s incredibly frustrating,” Driscoll said. “These buildings have been vacant for years. We need to create a path to reuse them.”

Baker’s law would help, she said. But, despite broad support, it has proved hard to pass.

The measure stalled in last year’s legislative session on Beacon Hill after housing advocates and some lawmakers lobbied to include more aggressive zoning changes. Baker tried again during the informal session in December — when a single lawmaker can block a bill — and it fizzled when progressive legislators tried to include protections for tenants at risk of eviction.

At the State House rollout, Baker had a wide array of advocates on hand to back him up. Andre Leroux, executive director of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, said, “We should move forward on what we can.” Geoff Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Municipal League, praised Baker’s bill, which he described as “bold in its impact, modest in its means,” and said “preserves and protects citizen-based decision-making.”

But there’s no telling how long that comity will last.

Housing advocates say they support Baker’s bill as a first step but made clear they’ll keep pushing for more. “We don’t think this is the last bite at the apple,” Leroux said. Beacon Hill veterans say that could be a tough sell to lawmakers wary of resistance back home, and perhaps from Baker himself."

Read more at The Boston Globe.

State House Winter

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