Allow Multi-Family Housing Units or State Will Cut Off Some Local Aid, Maura Healey Says To Massachusetts Towns

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2023/12/07/allow-multi-family-housing-units-or-state-will-cut-off-some-local-aid-maura-healey-says-to-massachusetts-towns/

The state government will block state funding for public schools, roads, and other items for towns and cities that don’t create at least one zoning district that allows multi-family housing as a matter of right, Governor Maura Healey said Thursday.

Healey, a Democrat, called housing affordability “the greatest issue facing our state” during an appearance Thursday, December 7 on Radio Boston on WBUR.

The host, Tiziana Dearing, asked Healey a question about the state’s MBTA Communities Act, a state statute enacted in January 2021 that requires 177 towns and cities in eastern Massachusetts to allow in at least one zoning district multi-family dwellings, at least 15 units of housing per acre, and no age restrictions so that the area is suitable for families.

Such a zoning district is supposed to be within a half-mile of a commuter rail station, subway station, bus station, or ferry terminal, if one of those exists in the town or city. (The towns and cities included in the law are considered to be served by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.)

“I’ve noticed it doesn’t seem you’re using your bully pulpit with cities and towns on this. And I wanted to ask you about that. Because you might have a great deal of power right now. Beyond what offices are doing in the state to, you know, hold money or withhold money, et cetera, what about your bully pulpit? Because you get just sort of one shot with the MBTA Communities Act to change zoning in the state,” Dearing said (at 5:09 of the audio).

Healey responded by citing some administrative steps she has taken to make increasing the amount of housing stock in the state a priority.

“But importantly, to the point you get about the MBTA Communities Act, I think I’ve been really clear about this. I take enforcement of that law seriously. I’m hoping that all will come into compliance. And I have said that, for those who don’t:  you will see withholding of state money,” Healey said (at 6:13 of the audio).

Healey later added (at 6:45 of the audio):  “Right now, to communities, if you don’t comply with the act, then you’re going to see us withholding as a state money for any number of programs that you’re used to receiving money for. And that includes, you know, for schools, it includes for roads and bridges, it includes for a whole host of things that are important to communities.”

Housing shortage and affordability topped the list of priorities for respondents to a UMass Amherst/WCVB poll in October, with 31 percent citing it. The same poll found that 51 percent of respondents said Healey has handled the housing situation in Massachusetts “not too well or not well at all.”

Zoning rules in many towns in eastern Massachusetts favor residential subdivisions with single-family homes on sizable lots with setbacks between the house and lot lines. Some of the well-to-do towns have zoning rules requiring in some areas house lots with a minimum of 2 acres.

In addition, for years towns in the Boston area have created zoning districts for people 55 and older, so as not to draw families with children who attend the town’s public schools and thus drive up the town’s public spending and local property taxes to pay for it.

Massachusetts has among the highest costs for housing in the United States. An article in Forbes Magazine in October 2023 found that Massachusetts has the fifth highest average home prices, behind Hawaii, California, New York, and Washington state.

Supporters of easing zoning restrictions on housing say the state needs more housing in order to bring costs down, and that local zoning rules requiring that only single-family homes on a minimum lot size be built in most residential areas keep costs high by limiting the number of homes that can be built.

The state needs 200,000 housing units by 2030 in order to deal with perceived housing shortage, according to the state Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities.

Opponents of easing zoning restrictions say that increasing density will harm the character of their communities, decreasing the quality of life there and potentially lowering the value of homes.

Healey during her radio appearance also touted her $4.12 billion housing bond bill that she filed in October, which she says would create more than 40,000 new housing units and preserve more than 27,000 existing housing units during the next five years. (It’s Massachusetts House Bill 4138, titled “… The Affordable Homes Act.”)

The bill would allow any town, city, or “regional affordable housing commission” to implement a local tax on real estate property transfers of between 0.5 percent and 2 percent on properties that sell for more than $1 million or for more than the median home sales price in the county, whichever is greater. The seller would have to pay the tax, which would go into a fund to build below-market-rate housing – either public housing or privately owned income-limited housing with restrictions on the sale price and re-sale price.

Healey’s housing bond bill would also raise money by borrowing in order to spend money on housing initiatives, including:

 

  • $1.5 billion for capital improvements for about 43,000 existing public housing units, including $150 million on “decarbonization of public housing” by converting to “all-electric buildings”
  • $800 million for the state’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund to help build below-market-rate housing;
  • $275 million for “sustainable and green housing initiatives”
  • $200 million for grants or loans to build low-income housing for people who make less than 30 percent of the area’s median income.

 

After the governor filed the housing bond bill October 18, Paul Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a conservative watchdog on Beacon Hill, criticized it, saying:  “Just about every bad idea made it into Governor Healey’s massive $4.12 billion borrowing plan, except rent control.”

Adding taxes on home sales would make housing more expensive, not less, he said, and Massachusetts taxpayers would end up spending significantly more than the $4.12 billion price tag of the bill because of interest on the loans.

“If Governor Healey wants to make housing more affordable, she needs to call on President Biden to lower interest rates, she needs to provide a way to lower property taxes, she needs to reverse the arbitrary green mandates which limit consumer choice and penalizes affordable energy options,” Craney said in a written statement. “The Governor is not dealing with the underlying issue of the cost of living and doing business in Massachusetts. The state has some of the highest property taxes in the country, some of the most aggressive green-new-deal-like arbitrary regulations. All these costs, which were not addressed in her bill, will be passed onto the property owners.”

 

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