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GA Blog: State issues

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7.19.19 Governor Baker Announces 2019 Affordable Rental Housing Awards

On July 18th in Swampscott, the 2019 Affordable Rental Housing Awards where announced by Governor Baker.  The North Shore was very well represented with four local recipients. The awards in total consist of nearly $80 million in direct subsidies and $38 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credits to fund the development, renovation, and preservation of housing opportunities throughout Massachusetts. 

 

The four local winners are:  Cabot Street in Beverly, which will construct 24 new units as well as rehabilitating 45 existing units.  All of these units will be restricted to individuals earning less than 60% of the area median income.  Harbor Village in Gloucester will be a mixed-use project consisting of a commercial ground level and 30 new units which will be restricted to 60% of area median income.  The Tannery in Peabody is a preservation project.  When the rehab is completed there will be 200 units reserved for those earning less than 60% of area median income and 35 units for those earning less than 30% of area median income.  Finally, The Senior Residences at The Machon in Swampscott is a redevelopment project of an elementary school for senior citizens.  There will be 38 units available for seniors earning less than 60% of the area median income and 8 more units for seniors earning less than 30% of the area median income.

 

You can find the state house’s official press release here.

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5.17.19 Rep. Vargas Testifies in Favor of Zoning Reform

State Rep. Andy Vargas testified before the Joint Committee on Housing this week in favor of reforms which would allow local governments to revise zoning laws through a simple majority vote.

Vargas told the committee that the current Massachusetts law, unusual among most other US states in that it requires a supermajority to revise zoning legislation, makes it easy for affordable housing developments to be stifled because of zoning issues.

Vargas testified that currently a minimum wage worker in the Merrimack Valley must work around 84 hours a week in order to afford a market rate one bedroom apartment. He said that with housing inequality so rampant, adding more affordable options to the market is a necessity.

This week, Vargas and Housing Committee Chairman Rep. Kevin Honan filed a bill setting a housing production goal of 427,000 new units by 2040, with a focus on transit oriented development. This comes at the heel of Governor Baker’s unveiling of the new “Housing Choice Community” designation, given to cities including Haverhill which commit to boostin housing production.

Read more about Rep. Vargas’ testimony at 97.9 WHAV.

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5.13.19 Zoning Push In Salem Sparks Response from Governor Baker

Changes in zoning policy meant to support increased housing in Salem, which failed in the City Council last winter, are being reconsidered. On May 9th, the Salem City Council took another look at a proposal to create a "Municipal and Religious Overlay District" (MROD), drafted as a response to calls to develop two Archdiocese-owned properties and a former senior center and turn them into homes.

The proposal received a 7-4 vote in favor in February, but failed lacking the required supermajority. Two weeks later, a second vote also failed for the same reason, meaning the proposal could not be considered again until the following calendar year.

The proposal presented on May 9th was different enough from prior plans to circumvent the rules barring further consideration, presenting a plan to allow “special permits” allowing developers to get around the zoning restrictions previously preventing the development of the properties in question. The City Council voted with no apparent votes in opposition to send it to the Planning Board to schedule the hearing.

Governor Charlie Baker stated in response to the debate in Salem that he believes that the housing crisis is due to an insufficient amount of housing production in Massachusetts. He is backing a bill that will allow towns to switch to a majority vote for zoning changes, which doesn’t specifically require any affordable housing be included in a project, but the Governor believes more housing at any price point will solve the inventory problem and bring prices down.

Read more about the zoning changes in Salem here. Learn more about Governor Baker’s push to ease efforts to make zoning changes here.

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4.30.19 Rent control gets a second look in Cambridge

A growing debate over rent control in Massachusetts has people in Cambridge harkening back to an era when apartment-living in this city was quite different: the 1990s.

Specifically, they’re revisiting 1994, the year Massachusetts voters narrowly outlawed restrictions on what landlords could charge tenants. Today, amid a housing crunch that grips much of Greater Boston, some lawmakers are saying it may be time to reconsider that decision.

While Boston and Brookline also had rent control programs in 1994, Cambridge’s was by far the most stringent. Nearly 40 percent of the city’s housing stock was under a rental cap, and a powerful board held sway over what landlords could demand for an apartment. In the quarter-century since the law was abolished, the Cambridge housing market has soared, powered in part by the emergence of Kendall Square as one of the world’s top biotechnology hubs.

There are at least two bills on Beacon Hill — one filed, the other expected to be filed soon — that would effectively undo that 1994 initiative and allow cities and towns to again impose rent control.

The prognosis for the legislation is unclear. Governor Charlie Baker has signaled his opposition to rent control, but supporters say it and other tenant protections should be part of the conversation in any broader housing legislation, including measures Baker wants that would ease zoning changes.

Should they succeed, the debate would be thrown back to cities and towns, many of which — like Cambridge — have changed dramatically since rent control ended.

Tim Toomey, the only current Cambridge City Council member who was on the board in 1994, lives just north of Kendall Square, in what was once a working-class neighborhood that has increasingly become home to biotech and tech workers who earn enough to pay $2,500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.

Read more about the rent control debate in the Boston Globe.

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3.20.19 State News: Tax on High-End Real Estate Sales Could Generate Hundreds of Millions for Boston; Dampen Real Estate Market

A tax on sales of high-dollar real estate in Boston would generate an enormous amount of money for affordable housing, but could dampen the city’s real estate market and faces a long road to approval.

That’s what emerged from a Boston City Council hearing Tuesday on a proposal that would levy a 6 percent tax on most homes, land, and office buildings that sell for more than $2 million, with the proceeds going to the city’s affordable housing fund.

A tax of that size would have generated $420 million last year, according to data from City Councilor Lydia Edwards, one of the bill’s cosponsors. Even a tax on commercial and industrial properties alone would have generated $189 million, nearly quadrupling the city’s current affordable housing budget of roughly $50 million.

“I would think those are numbers and money we certainly could use in the City of Boston,’ Edwards said.

Walsh administration officials — who have pushed for more affordable housing funding but taken no position on the transfer tax — didn’t disagree. Housing chief Sheila Dillon said Mayor Martin J. Walsh is “committed to the goals” of the legislation, but that it needs more study. Commissioner of Assessing Gayle Willett said she worried a transfer tax, and a related extra tax on sales of homes owned for less than two years, could hurt property values and make Boston’s housing market even tighter.

“I think that this would affect sales,” Willett said. “It would be in someone’s interest to get around these fees.”

Real estate industry leaders were more explicit: They don’t like the idea one bit. Greg Vasil, president of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, said his members, who include major affordable housing developers, unanimously oppose the current plan. Should it pass, he said, the tax would simply be passed on to the people its supporters are trying to help: low-income renters and small businesses.

“Taxes like this trickle down an economy. They end up coming to rest with those who can least afford them,” Vasil said. “Companies will pay more in rent; people will pay more in terms of rent.”

Read more about this proposal at The Boston Globe.

Boston Skyline

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

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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