Edward M. Augustus Jr.

Edward M. Augustus
Secretary of Housing and Livable Communities

Age: 58
Industry experience: 35 years

Edward Augustus summarizes his charge from Gov. Maura Healey as “more, faster” when it comes to housing production. To figure out how, he and others at the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities have been canvassing stakeholders from developers – like the nearly 50 he and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll recently hosted for a summit on housing production – to public housing tenants and municipal officials. At the same time, he’s had to build his brand-new department while it led the Healey administration’s efforts to welcome and house an unprecedented influx of nearly 6,700 migrant families, many of whom are undocumented, who’ve pushed the state’s emergency shelter system to the limit.

Augustus was Worcester city manager from 2014 to 2022, where he earned plaudits for his role in sparking housing development in the city’s downtown. Before that he was director of government relations for the city’s College of Holy Cross, a state senator, chief of staff for Worcester Congressman Jim McGovern and a senior staffer at the Department of Education under President Bill Clinton.

Q: As you develop the administration’s housing policy agenda, who are you talking to? And what are you seeking to learn from them?
Housing is a crisis situation in Massachusetts, and it’s literally impacting everyone. We hear about it from the business community – high tech, biotech, the other kind of industries, financial, et cetera. You hear about it from a competitiveness kind of perspective, the ability to attract and retain talent perspective. You hear about it even from municipal governments; 50 percent of the Cape’s workforce is living off the Cape and commuting onto the Cape every day for work. That makes it harder and harder to kind of fill vacancies as they occur. And then you talk to all your traditional housing advocates. I was just meeting with a tenants’ union. I met with the disabilities community to give a talk out in Marlborough earlier this week. Housing touches everybody, everybody lives somewhere or hopes to live somewhere. So, we’ve been trying to listen and engage with everybody, no matter what perspective they bring into the housing conversation.

Q: You’ve been on the record saying that when you look at this problem of the housing problem, that there’s no silver bullets, but how much is the administration trying to do with the upcoming housing bond bill?
I think we’re going to try to do more than a typical housing bond bill tries to do. So, I think we’re going to try to do more in terms of the amounts that we ask for authorization or reauthorization for some of our key programs. And I think we’re going to have a very robust set of policy recommendations. Maybe more than a dozen, maybe closer to two dozen; some bigger than others. But, you know, part of that listening and engagement has been to try to figure out, is there some consensus around some of these ideas [that different interest groups have proposed]? We’ve built a policy team here and I asked them to take all the advice we had been receiving, whether the administration had been receiving before I got her or after I got here, and let’s figure out, “Geez, 80 percent of the folks agree on these three or four solutions, let’s really dive deep there,” and then do a scan of what other states are doing because they all have housing challenges of one type or another.

And, you know, I think we’ve got between implementing the MBTA Communities law, the bond reauthorization, the policy recommendations, the couple of key elements that were in the tax bill the governor just signed – which is taking the state Low Income Housing Tax Credit from $40 million a year to $60 million a year, and then catching up the Housing Development Incentive Program with $57 million in one year, and then going from $10 to $30 million a year on a permanent basis. You look at those collectively and you start seeing, hey, we’ve got some things that might move the needle.

Q: You’ve been quoted in other media outlets saying transfer taxes to fund housing production are in the basket of policy changes you might propose. Given the opposition to the idea within the real estate community, why even consider that?
I think we’ve tried to be open-minded in our engagement process. In most cases – not every case – but most cases, we’ve heard from folks who think one idea is a good thing. And then we’ve heard from other people who think the opposite. That’s part of what you do when you listen to stakeholders, and sometimes you decide, “I’m convinced that maybe the truth is somewhere in between, so can we change it in certain ways that make it less problematic to one group or more impactful to a different group?”

The question is, do we need more money to support housing production? And I think the answer is yes. The cost of housing has gone up, right? Interest rates have gone up, construction materials costs have gone up significantly. Land costs, particularly in the Greater Boston area, have gone up. So, the question is, what are the different ways that if you are trying to incent the building of affordable housing, you can put subsidies or other things in to get those units that the market desperately needs? And so, you’re trying to figure out what existing resources you have that you can put to it. Are there other resources that we should at least be taking a look at given the crisis situation that we’re in now? So that’s why we’ve tried not to dismiss any ideas out of hand, or instantly embrace something without hearing the other side of the argument.

I’m hopeful that what we do come out with will be viewed as balanced, and that there will be enough good things in there that will move the ball on this crisis that people can say, “Alright, I like all this other stuff. Even if I don’t like this one thing, I’m on board.”

Q: Boston Mayor Michelle Wu recently signaled she’s prepared to propose tax breaks to get new housing off the starting line. Does the state have its own levers to pull to help address the problems developers face in financing new housing right now?
I think you’ll see in the proposal a fairly innovative strategy to try to introduce some opportunity for different players to provide access to capital and get equity into deals to help close the [financing] gap. As you know, there are the challenges. We’ve heard from a lot of folks – developers and others – that it’s an issue, and I think we’re going to have an out-of-the-box idea to try to throw at the problem. And again, it won’t be the thing that solves it. But is it a strategy that ends up filling some gaps, moving some projects forward that otherwise might be challenged in terms of accessing capital? I hope so.

Augustus’ Five Favorite Cities He’s Visited:

  1. Istanbul
  2. Buenos Aires
  3. Madrid
  4. Jerusalem
  5. Reykjavik


Big Ambitions for Big Bill

by James Sanna time to read: 5 min