Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (left) and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll (right) are the Democratic nominees for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively. State House News Service photos / file

Attorney General Maura Healey and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll began to put meat on the bones of their pledges to boost housing production and affordability Wednesday with a new “Housing Plan.”

The two Democrats are running against Republican former state legislators Geoff Diehl and Leah Cole Allen to be Massachusetts’ next governor and lieutenant governor, respectively.

During the Democratic primary, Healey shaped her pitch to voters around the state’s high cost of living and housing costs that are among some of the steepest in the nation.

“If we want to make Massachusetts more affordable and help our businesses be more competitive, then we have to address the high cost of housing,” Healey said in a statement issued by the campaign. “Young families can’t buy their first house, renters can’t stay in their homes, small businesses are struggling to retain workers, and our seniors can’t afford to downsize. The Healey-Driscoll Housing Agenda will work to dramatically increase housing stock across the state in order to drive down costs for all. It will also alleviate the burden on renters, address homelessness, and support our workforce.”

In addition to pledging that a Healey administration would “implement the Housing Choice Initiative to its fullest extent” to get tens of thousands of new housing units built near MBTA subway and commuter rail stations, perhaps the biggest pledge the plan released Wednesday morning makes is the creating of a “secretary of housing” charged with guiding a “coordinated housing policy.”

Currently, housing policy is run by the combined Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. Splitting the two functions into different, cabinet-level positions was an idea championed by Diehl’s opponent in the GOP primary, Wrentham businessman Chris Doughty, who said it would allow greater executive-level focus on increasing housing supply.

“Bolstered by support from the Governor’s Office, which will make housing a priority, the Secretary will be responsible for implementation of a coordinated housing policy with a goal of working with local officials, state agencies, existing housing stakeholders, and public and private sector housing developers to meet our housing needs in a manner that enhances communities and expands opportunities,” Healey’s plan says.

Healey’s plan also promises the establishment of a “pro-housing campaign” to market the idea of more housing construction to often-skeptical communities, including suburbs whose municipal governments have become dominated by anti-development factions.

“This effort will include public advocacy, training and education for community members and business leaders, toolkits and technical assistance for local officials, along with support for establishing local and regional housing production goals,” the Healey plan reads.

The plan also includes a nod to Healey’s and Driscoll’s stated backing for local-option rent stabilization measures, wrapping them and “zoning reforms to allow housing at greater densities” together as items where a Healey administration would “empower communities to enact local policies that best address their own, unique housing challenges” by offering technical assistance and regional collaboration.

Other pledges in the campaign include:

  • Streamlining the process to receive funding from the Department of Housing and Community Development for affordable housing construction.
  • Creating an advisory council to write a strategy to use state land to advance housing production goals.
  • Increasing opportunities for first-time homeownership by expanding down payment and closing cost assistance programs, housing counseling services and “match savings” programs.
  • Expand existing rental assistance programs including Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program and the Alternative Housing Voucher Program and make the programs more accessible with a single application portal.
  • Create apprenticeship and workforce programs at a time when shortages of construction labor are contributing to rising construction costs.

“With the cost of rents and mortgages being the single biggest expense for most households across Massachusetts, many families are struggling to stay afloat,” Driscoll said in a statement. “Quality housing means having access to good jobs, transportation options, and strong public schools. Our Housing Agenda will drive economic growth across every region of our state and bring down costs for Massachusetts residents.”

Healey, Driscoll Pledge to Name ‘Secretary of Housing’

by James Sanna time to read: 3 min