BOSTON – With municipal officials and other backers still hoping Gov. Charlie Baker’s housing production bill will pass by the end of the year, a state representative from Cambridge has asked House leaders to keep it from advancing.
Rep. Mike Connolly wrote to House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Tuesday, asking that the bill remain in the House Ways and Means Committee for the remainder of this legislative session to “help ensure we have an opportunity to consider amendments and complimentary [sic] measures that could make this bill stronger in terms of directly promoting the affordability of new housing and protecting tenants who are at risk of displacement.”
The bill (H 4290) lowers the threshold for approving certain local zoning changes, dropping it from two-thirds support to a simple majority. If it does not pass before the new session that begins Jan. 2, it will likely be refiled and start over again in the legislative process.
The bill did not make it through the House or Senate before the July 31 end of formal sessions. Citing a need to address the state’s housing shortage, Baker has expressed hope it could still pass in informal sessions, which are lightly attended and where recorded roll call votes and debate do not occur.
The Massachusetts Municipal Association, part of a coalition that supports the bill, has also been urging its passage, saying it is important to act this year so that zoning changes to facilitate new housing could be presented to voters at spring town meetings.
Connolly told the News Service that he attended the informal House session Monday to “let everyone know that my preference is for us to consider the elements of this bill as part of a comprehensive package that would include more direct measures aimed at affordability and tenant protections.”
He said he felt his input was “heard and respected” and that he believes “the conversation will continue.”
In his letter, Connolly said he is “generally supportive” of the bill but has heard from constituents and local activists “that there are many people who feel like their priorities are not being directly addressed by this legislation.”
“While it is true that Boston, Cambridge and Somerville have experienced a boom in multifamily housing production in recent years, it is also true that there are dozens of communities within the MBTA service area that see virtually no new housing production in any given year,” he wrote, saying he would “welcome the chance for us to debate and vote on legislation aimed at sustained housing production across the region.”
Connolly said he would also like lawmakers to consider “other relevant strategies to support housing affordability,” including a local option for a real estate transfer fee and new taxes on vacant luxury units.
Rep. Kevin Honan, a Boston Democrat who co-chairs the Housing Committee that endorsed the bill, said earlier this month that his panel likes the bill and feels “strongly that there needs to be a regional solution.”
“It can’t all be built in the same municipalities,” he said. “Everybody needs to help address this housing shortage.”
Honan has said the bill’s zoning provisions “would be very helpful” to some municipalities and described it as an “incremental situation, one step at a time.”
Connolly also serves on the Housing Committee.
Baker’s bill aims to facilitate the production of 135,000 new units by 2025.
In October, the Metro Mayors Coalition, representing a group of 15 Boston area communities that include Boston, Cambridge and Somerville, staked out its own regional housing production goal of 185,000 new units by 2030. The group said at the time that Baker’s bill could help reach the goal but was not essential to hitting the target.
The mayors said their communities had permitted 32,500 new housing units since 2010 while adding nearly 110,000 new residents, and that their efforts would include educating local officials about the problem, protecting affordable units and minimizing tear-downs, reducing evictions and eliminating unfair rental practices, and abolishing discrimination against tenants and buyers.
Rep. Denise Provost has also raised concerns about the so-called “housing choices” bill. The Somerville Democrat has been circulating an analysis she prepared of the legislation, describing it as “a wildly optimistic leap into supply-side economics as a means to solve the shortage of housing, and particularly affordable housing in Massachusetts.”
Provost wrote that the bill “is not sufficiently well thought out and drafted to be passed into law this session” and that it “should be fully vetted by municipal land use lawyers and professional planners before it becomes another legislative disappointment.”
She knocks the bill for what she describes as “insufficient consideration for infrastructure limitations and needs,” “insufficient attention to affordability” and a “one-size-fits-all” approach to zoning.
Provost said the bill “dictates the same permitting standards” for all cities and towns, without regard for population density, municipal finances, or proportion of existing low-income housing.
Sale prices for single-family homes and condominiums hit record highs for the month of October at $374,000 and $333,000, respectively, The Warren Group announced Wednesday.
CEO Tim Warren said sales are roughly on par with October 2017, despite a “shrinking single-family home inventory across Massachusetts.” Demand remains strong, and Warren said there is “no doubt in my mind that if there were additional homes available on the market, we would have seen a spike in sales last month.”