Baker’s Housing Plan

March 15, 2018 GMT

Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed legislation that would facilitate the construction of more affordable housing developments throughout the commonwealth.

Baker’s initiative seeks to ease the zoning-approval process for construction of multifamily developments and other housing projects. “An Act to Promote Housing Choices” would allow communities to adopt certain zoning changes by a simple majority vote rather than the existing two-thirds requirement.

With that technical tweak, along with $10 million in incentives to boost development, the Baker administration has established a goal of providing 135,000 new housing units by 2025.

The governor’s proposal has received favorable reviews from a cross-section of stakeholders, including the Commercial Real Estate Development Association of Massachusetts, the Conservation Law Foundation, and the Massachusetts Municipal Association. Even Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, citing the legislation’s benefits, is on board.

And now the governor is asking some of the state’s major employers to help him sway the state Legislature to act favorably on his legislation.

Like the governor, these corporate leaders realize more affordable housing is necessary if Massachusetts is to remain economically competitive with other states.

Jim Gallagher, executive vice president at John Hancock, said the availability of affordable-housing options is a top concern of college students being recruited for jobs.

The median sale price of a single-family home in January was $350,000, and the median price of a condo was $345,000, both record highs for the month, according to the Warren Group.

The high cost of housing keeps prices beyond the reach of first-time homebuyers. It limits inventory and options of older homeowners seeking to downsize. It’s a triple whammy when the cost of rental units soar.

The expensive housing market discourages local talent from staying here and outsiders from relocating.

These zoning changes must still be decided by individual communities. They can either opt for the simple majority vote or keep the status quo. However, those that adopt the updated zoning will gain access to capital grants, receive preferential treatment for existing grant programs, and access $2 million in MassHousing technical assistance grants to help them reach affordable housing goals.

No one can dispute the need for more housing options in this state. Every municipality, not just urban cities like Lowell and Fitchburg, must do their fair share to create more alternatives for residents and workers.

In its last session, the Senate passed a comprehensive overhaul of zoning laws that languished in the House.

It’s time the Legislature gets in step with the governor and the state’s business community and passes a bill that reflects this dire housing need.