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Speaking to a Seaport District ballroom packed with Greater Boston’s business elite this morning, gubernatorial front-runner Maura Healey said she would back local rent control measures and make housing production a focus of her administration if she wins in November.

Healey, who is also the Massachusetts attorney general, said the state’s high cost of housing is the top issue she hears on the campaign trail “whether I’m speaking to a resident in any number of regions of the state or whether I’m talking to a CEO.”

It’s also a top threat to the state’s economic competitiveness, she argued, adding that Massachusetts has “an affordability issue on our hands, that’s for sure.”

“I know you as the business community sees the impacts every single day. You have employees who are moving away, who have moved away who are thinking of leaving their jobs for higher wages, who need to stay home to take care of their children because childcare is too expensive,” she said.

Healey laid the blame at the feet of several factors: New York transplants outbidding locals for homes in Western and Central Massachusetts, older homeowners unable to downsize because they can’t afford a new property and first-time buyers priced out “because investors and corporations are coming in and scooping them up with cash.”

Recent research by the National Association of Realtors shows companies, corporations and LLCs bought only 7 percent of all homes sold in Massachusetts in 2021, with the highest concentrations on Martha’s Vineyard (15 percent), Nantucket (13 percent) and in Suffolk County (12 percent).

However, Healey stopped short of naming the largest factor most real-estate market observers point to – a historically large cohort of Bay Staters entering their prime homebuying years in their late 20s and 30s – when explaining the 36 percent jump in the statewide year-to-date median single-family sale price from $375,000 in April 2019 to $510,000 in April 2022 according to data collected by The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.

Healey painted a broad-strokes solution to the affordability problems she promised to tackle, with a focus on boosting production, that generally echoed Gov. Charlie Baker’s approach.

“We need a lot more housing stock of all kinds across the state. We need to increase state resources for that. we need to relax and address some of the zoning barriers that get in the way,” she said. “We need to increase first-time home ownership and help close the racial wealth gap through the expansion of down payment assistance programs and housing counseling. And we need to create units around public transit.”

When pressed by Greater Boston Chamber CEO Jim Rooney during a question-and-answer session after her speech on how she’d get buy-in from towns and cities – which largely control land-use decisions and have largely been resistant to zoning for and permitting new development – Healey said she wouldn’t “come with a hammer” and said the state needs “to take a hard look at what’s holding us back.”

“I’ve come with a hammer on a lot of fronts [as attorney general]. I’m not afraid to do that. but that’s not how you get buy-in. we’ve got to get people to see the common collective in the work that we do,” she said.

But in her speech, Healey also broke from the Baker administration’s orthodoxy in repeating her support for local-option rent control bills, like what Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has promised to bring to the legislature next year.

Speaking to reporters after the event, Healey said her main focus will be “pushing for housing” and zoning reform to build more housing statewide. Rent control – or “rent stabilization,” as she termed it – was necessary, she said, because rents are already very high.

“I’ve certainly heard those concerns [that rent control measures would seriously hamper developers’ ability to build more housing] and my position on rent stabilization is that it’s not something the state should mandate. Communities should be left to make their own decisions about that,” she said. “And we have to acknowledge that rents are really high for both people and for businesses and it’s just another indication of the affordability crunch so many people are facing across the state.”

Healey Tells Biz Leaders She’ll Back Housing Production, Rent Control

by James Sanna time to read: 3 min