Does the legislature of this commonwealth care about fixing a broken housing market? It appears not. 

As of this writing, Beacon Hill is fast approaching its biennial witching hour, July 31. Traditionally, that is the day when the House and Senate switch over to campaign mode. The normally packed chambers revert to “informal sessions,” attended by only a few members of either body and where the outcome of all votes is usually agreed in advance as even a single member would have the power to stop a bill.  

These sessions allow necessary and broadly popular legislation to move through when immediate action is necessary, but are near-impossible places for a bill like Gov. Charlie Baker’s two and a half-year-old Act to Promote Housing Choices to surviveas Rep. Mike Connolly so ably demonstrated when he torpedoed its first chance at passage in 2018. 

This bill represents the bare minimum the state could do to increase its housing supply, lowering the prohibitively high threshold to make housing-related zoning changes from two-thirds of a city council, planning board or Town Meeting to a simple majority.  

After a disappointing winter where it was favorably reported out of the Joint Committee on Housing shortly before Christmas, then imprisoned in the Ways and Means Committee by suburban legislators, it sprung back to life as part of a coronavirus-related stimulus bill Baker filed in late June. But the moment H.4529 crossed their desks, legislators in the Joint Committee on Economic Development surgically removed the Housing Choice language from the bill on July 15 before moving the measure on to its next committee appointment.  

Now, with the legislature barreling towards its date with pumpkin-hood, it looks all but certain this least of all actions to begin rebalancing the housing economy will be sent back to the starting line yet again. Another merry-go-round of committees will begin where this common-sense reform – which acts to preserve local control, not reduce it with state density mandates – will be blocked yet again by suburban legislators who feel more affinity with NIMBY factions in their towns than the greater good. 

When this legislation next shows up, lawmakers would do well to remember that while all aspiring homeowners in Massachusetts are hurt by the current state of affairs, where demand far outstrips supply to the detriment of our economic competitiveness, Black and Latino prospective buyers are hurt the most. As Banker & Tradesman has covered previously, they are the most likely to have trouble affording a down payment thanks to generations of discrimination that prevented their families from building wealth. And as home prices rise ever higher, the dream of homeownership moves further out of reach for many. 

And while most legislators won’t face opponents this election, their constituents should take note of where they stand on this issue for the next time around. 

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Another Year, Another Housing Policy Failure

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 2 min