State legislators could soon have a chance to consign one real estate trend of 2019 to the scrap heap: inaction on the state’s housing crisis.
As of Banker & Tradesman’s Friday deadline, the Joint Committee on Housing had finished polling its members on their support for Gov. Charlie Baker’s Act to Promote Housing Choices, a key precursor to a vote that must be taken before Jan. 31 if the bill is to advance to the full House and Senate before this legislative session is done.
The bill would reduce the threshold for housing-related zoning changes to pass local planning and select boards from the current two-thirds majority to a simple majority. This disarmingly simple change could unlock as many as 135,000 housing units, the Baker administration believes, and is a necessary precursor to any more aggressive changes at the local level.
If this piece of legislation sounds familiar, it’s because it’s taken 10 months for the bill to get this far amid accusations from the left that it won’t do enough to make more housing affordable and from a handful of well-off, conservatively-minded suburbs who want to be exempted from its provisions.
This disarmingly simple change could unlock as many as 135,000 housing units, the Baker administration believes, and is a necessary precursor to any more aggressive changes at the local level.
It’s also nearly a carbon copy of a bill Baker filed back in 2017 during the last legislative session, when it passed through the committee process but died at the end of session thanks to progressive Rep. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge, who held the bill up in an effort to add affordable housing and tenant protection measures.
Representatives and Senators can’t let this bill die a second death.
The state is nearly 100,000 housing units short of demand, by some estimates, helping keep rents and sale prices nearly as high as the Hancock Tower. Every spring and fall Town Meeting season this bill languishes without being passed into law means that tally keeps growing. Projects in need of zoning relief, which command clear majority support in their towns, are regularly strangled by vocal but uncompromising minorities opposed to new housing. In the longer term, these same minorities thwart distinct majorities in their communities who want to advance pro-housing zoning.
The bill may not be an omnibus solution to the housing crisis – it doesn’t for example, mandate a percentage of affordable housing in projects that can support it, or require towns to allow multifamily housing as-of-right near train stations – but it has the support of key players like the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the affordable housing community and the real estate industry. And once it passes, a number of towns where voters and their elected leaders are chomping at the bit to enable more housing construction will have the door open to do so.
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