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Gov. Maura Healey has named former Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus as the state’s first housing secretary in 30 years.

“Ed Augustus is the leader Massachusetts needs to take the helm of our new Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities and drive an ambitious, collaborative strategy to increase housing production and lower costs across the state,” Healey said in a statement. “He left Worcester a stronger city than it was a decade ago, with booming economic development in the downtown and thousands of new housing units. Importantly, he is intimately familiar with local government and knows what it takes to collaborate with municipalities to move our state forward on our housing goals.”

Augustus was Worcester’s city manager from 2014 to 2022 where, according to Healey’s office, he oversaw the spending or commitment of $25.3 million worth of various federal, state and local funds to help develop or preserve over 2,000 affordable housing units, giving the city the third-largest inventory of subsidized housing in the state, and steered $30 million in the city’s federal COVID relief funds into the city’s housing efforts, including $15 million for the city’s affordable housing trust fund. Before his retirement from the city manager position, Augustus also introduced an inclusionary zoning ordinance with the Worcester City Council although the measure, which requires new developments with 12 or more units set aside between 10 percent and 15 percent of their units as affordable depending on price, only passed last month.

Augustus was also a driving force behind the in-progress redevelopment of the city’s Canal District, centered on a new stadium for the Worcester Red Sox AAA baseball team. That stadium, while it has been credited with catalyzing hundreds of new market-rate apartments nearby, also came in for criticism in a recent study by College of the Holy Cross economics professor Robert Bauman. The stadium, Bauman argued, will cost the city far more over 30 years than it had originally bargained for due to how the city calculated the property tax benefits of development going up around it.

Healey has billed her reorganization of the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development into two separate bureaus as a way to help the administration focus on ways to build more housing in the state. But the new, housing-focused department the move creates – effective May 30 – will be focused on working “collaboratively with stakeholders” from municipal officials through developers and renters, the administration said.

“Ed Augustus has the right experience, vision and drive to lead this important work,” Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll said in a statement. “His motto is ‘How do we get to yes?’ which is an approach our entire administration is embracing. We’re committed to partnering with cities and towns to ensure they have the resources and support they need to give a hearty “Yes!” to housing development in their communities.”

State Sen. Lydia Edwards, co-chair of the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Housing, called Augustus’ appointment a “good sign,” but sounded notes of caution about how he might tackle his new assignment.

“I hope the new secretary prioritizes building housing we can afford and closing the racial wealth gap,” she said in a statement. “The new secretary cannot measure success by the number of units built alone. He must also look at lowering displacement, creating more homeowners, and eradicating discrimination. I hope he realizes he has a lot of people ready to work with him.”

Industry Reaction Positive

Along with the personnel announcement, Healey’s office released warm statements of support from Worcester Congressman Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance President Joe Finn, Massachusetts Competitive Partnership President and CEO Jay Ash and Trinity Financial founder and principal Patrick Lee.

“Ed Augustus spearheaded the sale of the Worcester County Courthouse, which we converted into a mixed-use project with dozens of residential units at all income levels. He saw the value this building had to offer to connect residents with affordable, secure housing and revitalize the neighborhood. These are the types of results that I know he will deliver across Massachusetts as the state’s first Housing Secretary in decades,” Lee said.

The Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts issued a separate statement, from the association’s executive officer Joe Landers, lauding Healey’s pick of Augustus.

“We believe that, as a former municipal leader, Secretary-Designate Augustus understands the dire need for new housing of all types and the steps that must be taken to facilitate rapid solutions. His experience directing housing policy at the local level will be immensely important to the swift implementation of recently passed state legislation, including Chapter 40Y, which enables more starter home construction, and the MBTA Communities Law,” Landers said. “We are already seeing too many young and talented residents leave Massachusetts because of the housing crisis, and we welcome the leadership that Secretary-Designate Augustus will bring in solving the immense challenge of getting more housing built.”

Advocates Give Thumbs-Up

Rachel Heller, CEO of housing advocacy group Citizens Housing and Planning Association, likewise praised the pick.

“We at CHAPA look forward to working with Secretary Ed Augustus to develop policies and supports to produce the homes that people, our communities, and the Commonwealth need in order to thrive,” Heller said in an email. “Secretary Augustus’s experiences with local, state, and federal government are important for understanding the challenges municipalities face in meeting our housing needs. The Secretary brings knowledge of opportunities at the local, state, and federal levels to bring tools and resources together to produce a mix of rental and homeownership opportunities that offer meaningful choices for people and that are affordable for people with low, moderate, and middle incomes.”

In an email, Abundant Housing-MA Executive Director Jesse Kanson-Benanav applauded Healey’s pick.

“He has a proven track record from his time in Worcester of great city building, recognizing the need to create diverse housing choices for people of all income levels,” he said. “I look forward to having the opportunity to work with him and spread our shared vision of affordable and abundant housing to all corners of the Commonwealth.”

Rep. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge, said he was “excited” at Augustus’ impending arrival. Connolly is co-chair of the state legislature’s Housing Caucus and a prominent progressive voice in favor of tenant protections like rent control and tenant opportunity to purchase. He said he hoped the administration will work to “guarantee housing to all residents of the Commonwealth.”

“We were the state that put forth the idea of universal public education, and then universal healthcare. Now, we must lead again and move to make housing a human right in our Commonwealth,” Connolly said in an email. “To do this, we need a truly comprehensive approach, one that combines smart housing production and strong tenant protections with new, progressive revenues and bigger public investments in affordable housing, public housing, social housing development, housing first programs and wraparound services.”

Ex-Worcester City Manager Tapped as Housing Secretary

by James Sanna time to read: 5 min